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Lockdown Wales: How Covid-19 Tested Wales

ISBN-13: 
9781781726013
Publication Date: 
Monday, December 7, 2020
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£9.99

In 2020 everyone’s lives were taken over by the Covid-19 pandemic. No-one was unaffected. The spring lockdown changed the way we lived, the way we looked at each other and at ourselves. Big questions engaged us all: PPE, the health service, care homes, shielding. We became used to new words: ‘social distancing’, ‘track and trace’, ‘ramping up’. We were agog as we watched our political leaders attempt to deal with ‘unprecedented events’ and make their daily television announcements. Yet appalling fatalities and ill health were also accompanied by some good things: a change of pace, new respect for the NHS, a sense of being part of something huge and necessary.

As the year closed amid new lockdowns and restrictions, and a long-awaited vaccine heaved into view for 2021, Lockdown Wales asks how Covid-19 affected us. It explores how it tested Wales, and the rest of the UK, after years of austerity policy had left the country with an ‘underlying condition’. It relates stories of ordinary people against a backdrop of political and social change. It asks questions of politicians in Westminster and Cardiff Bay. It wonders how Wales, its UK neighbours and the rest of the world work together. It concludes that there can be no going back, that a new way of doing things is needed now.

REVIEWS

Review by Mark S. Redfern, Planet

Monday, March 1, 2021

This review was first published in Planet 241. Visit their website for more information planetmagazine.org.uk.

The galloping pace of events over the course of this ongoing international crisis has kept us tense. The anxiety of keeping up-to-date on the danger lurking on every communal door handle is just one of many effects of Covid-19. Following the responses of the devolved UK governments has been a rollercoaster, with the minutiae of one scandal swept away by the appearance of another. Thankfully there are people like Will Hayward who have suffered the full brunt of the news-cycle and managed to find a path through the fog.

The aim of Lockdown Wales, Hayward tells is in the introduction, was to serves as ‘an aid for people in Wales to understand what has happened to themselves, their families and their lives’. The subject needs a calm and gentle hand, and Haywards non-confrontational style is useful in this regard. As he sees it, his primary journalistic duty is to provide the public with solid information. This is what the book does best – it is an accessible, blow-by-blow account of the whole horrid affair, at least up to the point when the book went to press.

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None of us should envy the frantic pace of a news reporter during Covid-19, but Hayward certainly has an enviable proximity to power, and clearly had a front-row seat to numerous cock-ups made by decision-makers in Wales. He recalls one worrying episode when the First Minister seemed to lose the thread of his own advice and his PR people had to scramble to correct the mess; Vaughan Gething’s ‘sweary episode’ also gets a mention, as, of course, does Dominic Cummings’ holiday saga which has come to define the insouciant approach to Covid on the other side of Offa’s Dyke. Landmark events are accompanied by pockets of analysis about the Welsh Government response.

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In the second part of the book Hayward digs deeper into the scandals of the first lockdown. And although he claims that his journalistic approach is more that of an observer that a spiral-pad warrior, he does summon the courage to bite those in authority when needed. Exploring the plight of those different identities during the crisis, he dedicated a chapter to the unique challenges faces by the BAME community. There is impressive detail in the analysis of the testing fudge-up by the Welsh Government too. He even gives us insight into the different types of swabs used by the Welsh and English systems and how that might have contributed to ‘lost’ tests sent to the wrong labs.

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Many of us have kept a close eye on WalesOnline during these turbulent times, and Hayward’s book will serve best as a reference (with a good dose of behind-the-curtain media insight) to those first few months. Lockdown Wales has given us a detailed cheat-sheet for when we’ll have to tell the grandkids about the Great Pandemic ­– when it is finally all over. Writing this in December 2020 during yet another period of Lockdown, one wonders how this book will read in another year’s time.

Emily Edwards, Buzz Magazine

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Written, says its author, as “an aid for people in Wales to understand what has happened to themselves, their families and their lives,” Lockdown Wales explores how the ongoing pandemic, and the decisions made by the politicians, affected those people. It outlines the events that took place from 23 Mar 2020, when it was first announced the UK was going into lockdown, and the incredibly fast-moving events of the following week: grocery websites crashing, schools closing, streets silenced and all the things we took for granted simply halted.

Will Hayward reports on the myriad changes that took place in the NHS: in Cardiff, a 70,000-capacity stadium became a 2,000-bed hospital. Were established hospitals, meanwhile, equipped to control the virus? The concern over the lack of PPE, and the consequences thereof, is examined, the failure for this at a local and governmental level explored in detail. Shortcomings in testing, including whether it was introduced swiftly enough, are explored, with detailed statistics and political accounts of a rollercoaster journey fraught with problems.

The effect on the British public was profound, residents of Wales discovering walks, parks and nature reserves they hadn’t known existed on their doorstep. Birdsong definitely got louder… and remember the sheep enjoying themselves on a roundabout in Monmouthshire? Hayward observes the internal tension that afflicted many: people glad of lockdown in some ways, but missing family terribly as the novelty wore off. Outside a DIY store, a queue grows: “Limited numbers inside the store, Perspex screens at checkouts, card payments only at tills….” Just some of the things we would have to get used to.

Lockdown Wales addresses the vulnerable and elderly, instructed not to go out but unable to secure an online grocery delivery. Food parcels were provided for some of Wales’ most in need, but challenges were faced as well; Hayward interviews consumers who experienced the drudgery of the lockdown most acutely, when simply being able to buy toilet roll, for example, was an impossibility at times.

The book touches on the furlough scheme, which promised hope for businesses but let many slip through the net and ultimately shut down. It looks at parents struggling with home-schooling, desperate to be furloughed so they could look after their kids. Domestic abuse is a subject the book doesn’t skim over: Hayward explores funding, or the lack thereof, for Wales Women’s Aid and the issues created by social distancing mandates creating reduced capacity in refuges. BAME communities’ statistical predilection for contracting Covid is touched on, the challenges faced however shown in a positive light – a cue to affirm that the many other issues facing Wales did not vanish with the onset of coronavirus. Shared stories are what people listen to, Hayward maintains, not numbers.

Inevitably, there have been a wealth of developments in the Covid-19 saga since Lockdown Wales was published in December, but the book concludes by highlighting the diverting paths England and Wales took in lifting the lockdown. An interesting, informative read, it tracks a journey which is prominent in our minds and still raw in our emotions. We can reflect on the past, whilst seeing how the future changes for Wales as this pandemic continues to impact the nation. 

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