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The definitive verdict on how the Welsh Government and UK Government compared in their handling of the pandemic

The definitive verdict on how the Welsh Government and UK Government compared in their handling of the pandemic

For many people in Wales the pandemic was the first time they truly realised they were governed by two Governments – the UK Government in Westminster and the Welsh Government headquartered in Cardiff Bay. In the two years since the pandemic arrived on our shores huge parts of Welsh society and life have been run by the Welsh Government but it wasn’t until Covid took hold that the realities of the current devolution settlement became apparent to huge swathes of Wales.

Mark Drakeford went from a man who could walk down any Welsh street largely unrecognised to one of the most familiar faces in the country. But just because the Welsh Government had a great deal of control over the pandemic response in Wales doesn’t mean they had sole control or were operating in a vacuum.

The UK Government had both direct and indirect impacts on how the pandemic played out in Wales. Whether that was when they essentially managed the pandemic responses in March 2020, their control over the furlough scheme and mass testing, or simply the spread of the virus across the border what the UK Government did also really mattered in Wales. This is to say nothing for the fact that it is still Welsh taxpayers’ money being spent – even on projects affecting England.

Read more: Omicron symptoms according to the NHS and Zoe and all the strange new ones people are reporting

Throughout the pandemic both the Welsh and UK Governments have attempted to make political gain by comparing how they have handled the virus compared to their counterparts across the border. In Wales Mark Drakeford has repeatedly juxtaposed his decision-making, which he describes as thoughtful, cautious, and considerate, with that of Boris Johnson, whom he has categorised as rushed, ill-conceived, and at times even callous. By contrast UK Government ministers, Conservative politicians, and the PM himself have often drawn attention to the fact that rules in England have often not been as restrictive as well as scorning measures such as the Welsh Government’s ban on selling non-essential items in supermarkets.

This comparison has become a real talking point among people in Wales. The respective handling of the pandemic was a key battleground in the Welsh parliamentary elections last year and is widely believed to be one of the primary reasons for Welsh Labour’s success. It is therefore worth taking an objective look at who handled the pandemic better.

Unfortunately this is a task fraught with difficulty for a whole host of reasons including:

  • The interconnectivity of Wales and England. If one sneezes the other gets a cold.

  • The huge difference in size, demographics, and geography between the two. This is not comparing apples with apples.

  • The dependence of Wales on the UK Government for the financial levers to manage the pandemic.

  • So much is open to interpretation. If you are a shielding person you may very well really value the Welsh Government’s commitment to caution. If you are young business owner you may be more inclined towards the UK Government’s more hands-off approach.

There’s also the fact that many of the assumptions about both administrations don’t actually stand up to scrutiny. There is real evidence that during parts of the pandemic the Welsh Government was actually far from cautious. But given the impact the pandemic and the subsequent response has had on people’s lives there is real value in trying to establish how the respective governments of the people of Wales performed. Therefore WalesOnline has gone through some of the key flashpoints of the pandemic to try and piece together who handled the crisis better. It goes without saying that the decision-makers in question were working under incredible pressure through the crisis and of course mistakes were always going to be made. But it is vital that mistakes are learnt from otherwise they will simply be repeated when the next crisis comes around.

It is also important to point out that as well as the categories that follow many other topics could have been included such as vaccination programmes, testing, and how schools were dealt with. However for reasons of brevity and the fact there was less distinction between the respective administrations in this area these have been omitted.

Deaths

We need to start this section by saying that neither the UK or Welsh Governments did well here. Compared to many other developed western countries the UK as a whole performed poorly. Largely because of a blasé response in the first wave and an glacially-slow lockdown in the second wave both England and Wales’ death rates are high when put alongside comparable nations.

So who performed worse out of the two? Well this depends on the figures you use. Let’s look at the death rates in the first two waves of the pandemic.

In the spring last year, based on the way the Office for National Statistics (ONS) records deaths where Covid-19 is mentioned on the death certificate, Wales had seen 7,821 deaths since the start of the pandemic. This is equivalent to 248.1 deaths for every 100,000 people in Wales. The equivalent figure for England is 129,394 deaths giving a comparable figure of 229.9 deaths per 100,000 people.

However Wales has an older population than England meaning that it is more vulnerable to Covid. If we use the internationally-recognised system for adjusting for age, what’s called an age-standardised mortality figure, things are very different. This method creates a comparable figure to show how many deaths a country would have had if it had the same percentage of people in each age group.

This gives these figures:

  • England – 217.1 deaths per 100,000 people
  • Wales – 212.4
  • Scotland – 173.8
  • Northern Ireland – 164.7

So Wales actually had a slightly lower death rate than England though not by much. However it was considerably worse than Scotland or Northern Ireland.

But if we look at excess deaths, which refers to the difference between the number of deaths registered over a set time compared with the average number of deaths for the same time period over the previous five years, Wales comes out much more favourably. According to the data, which is drawn from the Office for National Statistics, the amount of excess deaths per country was:

  • England: 14.5%
  • Wales: 11.7%
  • Scotland: 12.3%
  • Northern Ireland: 13.4%

While the raw data seems to suggest the Welsh Government performed best on this metric it is missing two very important things – context and luck. First let’s look at why England has a higher rate. Analysis from Public Health Wales suggests the reason for England’s higher rate is down to London having a significantly higher number of deaths at the very early stages of the first wave of the pandemic. Now of course you could argue that this was the UK Government’s responsibility, and therefore the blame lands with them, but this ignores the fact that Covid hit every UK nation and all four had a very similar first wave (as you can see from the graph below). It is hard to argue that if Covid had hit Edinburgh or Cardiff first the result would have been any different in either Scotland or Wales. England therefore had a higher first-wave rate but likely by virtue of having the largest and most internationally-connected city.



The amount of excess deaths per UK nation from March 2020 to the end of 2021. All UK nations ultimately had a similar first wave though Wales had a worse second wave. Scotland had lower peaks but a higher consitatn level of infection.

Second we need to look at when Wales’ excess deaths occurred. Wales had proportionally more excess deaths in the second wave of the pandemic (September 2020 to February 2021) than other parts of the UK. It is worth noting that this was the wave where the Welsh Government were in charge of the pandemic response in Wales. In the first wave they largely followed the UK Government’s lead in the early months.

The two charts tell the story. The one in blue illustrates the amount of deaths relative to population in the first wave and the one in green shows the second wave. As you can see in the wave where the Welsh Government were making the big calls there were more deaths in Wales than anywhere.

Verdict: Both governments come out very poorly in an international context when it comes to the death rate. Wales had fewer deaths than other parts of the UK when considering both the excess deaths and the age-standardised mortality figure. However there is no escaping the fact that there were more deaths in the wave when the Welsh Government had primary control over the pandemic response.

Care homes

Much as with deaths there is no way to look at the issue of care homes during the pandemic without drawing some damning conclusions. In the first wave of the pandemic both the UK and Welsh Government presided over what only can be considered a disaster in care settings.

Early on in the pandemic care settings were identified (along side hospitals and prisons) as the areas most in need of protection. Not only did both sides utterly fail to protect the residents of care homes but they committed to actions that actively seeded the disease within the settings themselves.

To be clear – when we talk about the failure in care homes we are talking about the first wave. After the first wave both governments got much better at protecting care settings. As you can see from the graph below in the first wave excess deaths in care homes exceeded that of hospitals. But for the rest of the pandemic the amount of care home excess deaths was around usual levels.

So how do the UK and Welsh Governments compare on care homes? During the first wave there were more than 23,000 registered beds in Welsh care homes and the occupancy was about 92% going into the crisis. ONS figures show in that wave that Wales lost 3.4% of all its care home residents. This is far higher than New Zealand (0.04%), Germany (0.4%), Canada (1.5%), and Denmark (0.5%). Italy, whose health service was overwhelmed by the virus, also performed better (3.1%).

Wales did manage to perform better than the UK as a whole, which lost an awful 5.3% of its care home population, but it is worth bearing in mind that the virus started to circulate here two weeks after it did in England so it had a fortnight more of infiltrating care settings across the border before the lockdown.

Both the UK and Welsh Government discharged huge amounts of people from hospital into care homes without testing them for the virus. T he The High Court has ruled that the UK Government’s policies were “unlawful”. This hasn’t been found to be the case with the Welsh Government but no equivalent legal action was taken. To all intents and purposes they had the same policy.

Both governments were also arguably misleading regarding how they actually handled the crisis with the UK Government claiming they had put a “protective ring” around care settings (a claim w hich was labelled “not grounded in reality”) and the then Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething repeatedly blithely dismissed any criticism of the hospital discharge policy. However there was an area where there was divergence between the two governments, which was how quick they were to recognise their mistake.

The reason that Covid ran rampant in care homes was because only people with symptoms were allowed a Covid test. It was not until April 29 that Vaughan Gething changed the policy to allow all residents coming into homes to be tested. In England Matt Hancock announced on April 14 that everyone going into care homes could be tested. Despite Mr Gething repeatedly saying that there was no evidence of asymptomatic transmission and that he was “following the science” a WalesOnline investigation proved that SAGE had identified that asymptomatic transmission was happening at early as March.

The situation in care homes was a disaster. One care home owner was so overwhelmed by the death and misery in his home he shot himself in the head. Some care home mortality was perhaps inevitable but the disaster in both England and Wales was not.

Verdict: Wales had slightly fewer deaths than the UK average. However the virus was circulating in Wales for considerably less time. On the biggest call the Welsh Government got it wrong. They were also slower to remedy their mistake than the UK Government.

PPE (costs and supply)

As with many other parts of the pandemic when it comes to issues around PPE it is not which administration performed best but rather who did the least badly. Similarly to care homes the issue of PPE was very much a feature of the first wave of the pandemic because once global markets were able to adjust there weren’t widespread PPE issues.

Both the UK and Welsh Governments had serious issues with PPE shortages and also nprocurement costs. At the start of the pandemic there was a global shortage of PPE. In Wales there were doctors having to buy goggles from a DIY shop while a nurse from Aberdare, Gareth Roberts, died from Covid after being sent to look after Covid patients with “a paper mask, plastic gloves and a pinny”. In Newport the council pleaded with local businesses to provide PPE for their frontline workers. A survey by the British Medical Association in May 2020 found that 67% of doctors in Wales did not feel fully protected from Covid-19 in their place of work with 33% of doctors telling the BMA they wouldn’t bother to speak up because they knew nothing would be done. In England things were no better with similarly horrifying stories.

So how can you compare the two government’s responses when they were literally shopping in the same global market and often sharing PPE with each other to cover shortfalls? Well there are two areas where the two governments diverged.

The area where the UK Government came out with more credit was how they distributed the PPE they actually had. Each nation had some stockpiles in case of a flu pandemic with England and Wales doing it in different ways. The Welsh Government opted to send this PPE directly to care settings where as the UK Government sent its share to wholesalers for care homes in England to purchase themselves. In the end the UK Government policy of using the established channels proved significantly more effective.

However the area where the Welsh Government came out with significantly more credit than the UK Government was around the sourcing of PPE. The scandal of public money ending up in the hands of people who have prominent friends in the Conservative Party has been an ongoing theme of the crisis. There have also be concerns that many contracts were awarded without a proper tendering process and many of the items supplied were not up to standard.

Here are just a few examples:

  • Healthcare firm Randox, which employed then Conservative MP Owen Paterson as a paid consultant, won a £133m contract unopposed to produce Covid-19 testing kits.
  • Conservative councillor Steve Dechan and the director of P14 Medical received PPE contracts to supply face shields worth £120m.
  • Fifty million face masks bought by the UK Government in April 2020 ended up not being used in the NHS because of safety concerns. The were supplied to NHS England by Ayanda Capital as part of a £252m contract. The person who originally approached the government about the deal was a government trade adviser who also advised the board of Ayanda.

Now this isn’t to say that the Welsh Government always secured great value for money from the taxpayer. As the pandemic continued NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership awarded six contracts for the supply of PPE totalling nearly £70m. All contracts awarded by the Welsh Government were done without any competitive tendering process citing reasons “due to the Covid-19 global pandemic” according to the Wales Audit Office. There are definitely questions for the Welsh Government to answer but there simply weren’t the same overt conflicts of interested and “fast-track lanes” that we saw in the UK Government.

Verdict: Both the UK and Welsh Governments had huge issues around PPE (though the UK Government were at times slightly better at distributing backup stocks). There was good cooperation between both sides. However the UK Government’s relentless giving of enormous public sector contracts to people with direct links to the Conservative Party was scandalous.

Contact tracing

It is hard to look at the contact-tracing regimes of the Welsh and UK Governments and not conclude that in this area the Welsh Government significantly outperformed the UK Government. Both decided to set up their own contact-tracing regimes: Track and Trace for England (which was relied heavily on private contracts to companies like for Serco and Sitel and also consultants, some of whom received £1,000 a day) and Track Trace Protect (TTP) for Wales (which was largely run by local authorities).

Let’s take a look at the rough costs:

  • The Welsh Government TTP programme cost just over £120m during 2020-21. This works out at around £38 per capita.
  • The UK Government’s NHS Test and Trace spent £13.5bn up to April 2021. This works out at around £241 per capita.

Now there are some caveats for these figures. Much of this spending was spent on testing and a significant proportion of the Welsh programme used testing supplied by the English Lighthouse Labs so these figures won’t have been accounted for. However even with this taken into account, the Welsh system was better value for money. This was especially true given that the Welsh system managed to consistently perform better than its English counterpart in terms of time taken to reach contacts.

This doesn’t mean that the Welsh system was perfect. There were longstanding issues with TTP when it came to actually being effective at tackling the virus once the disease got going. Though there were successes when the virus was repressed, most notably in meat processing plants. Once the virus accelerated the TTP system was completely overwhelmed. This WalesOnline investigation highlighted these issues.

As with many parts of the response both the UK and Welsh Government fall short in an international context. Take the definition of what constituted a contact – Taiwan had an average of 17 per case whereas the UK average was two.

Verdict: The Welsh Government performed considerably better than the UK Government when it came to contract tracing both in terms of effectiveness and value for money.

Following the science and acting quickly

This is a very hard thing to quantity for a whole host of reasons. For one thing “the science” of an emerging disease is constantly changing and, especially in the early days, is far from categorical. For another even if the science says: “Do this to avoid a spike in cases” there are still over things for policymakers to balance such as whether the measures are affordable, if they could cause other harms, and whether people will follow the rules. However there were a few times during the pandemic where both governments clearly deviated from the advice stated by scientists – often to devastating results but sometimes to little effect whatsoever.

For example despite the Welsh Government marketing themselves as more cautious they only brought in compulsory mask-wearing on public transport on July 27, 2020. By contrast the same rules were introduced in England six weeks before (though they would then be lifted sooner in England).

However, if we are talking about the direct loss of life from a decision perhaps the biggest call policymakers had to make was when to lockdown going into the winter of 2020. On September 21, 2020, the UK’s top scientific advisory body, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), published advice where they called for a circuit-breaker lockdown. This advice stated that: “Cases are increasing across the country in all age groups. Not acting now to reduce cases will result in a very large epidemic with catastrophic consequences in terms of direct Covid-related deaths and the ability of the health service to meet needs.”

The advice suggested a package of measures including:

  • A circuit-breaker to return incidence to low levels.

  • Banning all contact within the home with members of other households.

  • Closure of all bars, restaurants, cafes, indoor gyms, and personal services (e.g. hairdressers).

  • All university and college teaching to be online unless absolutely essential.

It concluded: “The more rapidly these interventions are put in place the greater the reduction in Covid-related deaths and the quicker they can be eased. However some restrictions will be necessary for a considerable time.”

So here we have categorical advice from the leading experts in the UK: “Lock down now and lock down hard”. To follow the science would be to follow this advice. But neither the UK nor Welsh Government followed this advice – but they failed to follow it in different ways.

The Welsh Government opted to continue with the failing local lockdown policy that left most of Wales under restrictions but pubs open (a policy that Wales’ chief medical officer Dr Frank Atherton subsequently admitted failed). Over month after the lockdown advice was issued Wales went into its fire-break on October 31. This proved far too short to really get on top of the virus and the restrictions the people of Wales faced after the fire-break were incredibly lax. As the virus started to spike again heading into December Mark Drakeford, desperate to keep to his promise of no more lockdowns before Christmas, didn’t order a lockdown but instead restricted the sale of alcohol in restaurants and pubs.

The UK Government, by contrast, didn’t go into a full lockdown until November 5. This lasted more than two weeks longer than the Welsh one with restrictions in place until December 5. This longer period allowed them to get more on top of the virus and probably contributed to the second wave being slightly less severe in England.

So who did better? Both governments took too long to act. The Welsh Government acted first but didn’t make its restrictions long enough or strong enough. The UK Government took much longer to act but did lock down for longer (in part because they had more data because of how the fire-break had played out in Wales).

It should be noted that part of the challenge facing the Welsh Government was that the furlough scheme was due to come to an end on October 31. To lock down businesses without furlough would likely have led to catastrophic job losses. Mark Drakeford requested that Chancellor Rishi Sunak extend the scheme in Wales for a longer lockdown but he refused despite the Welsh Government offering to pay the difference. Mr Sunak then subsequently extended furlough once England went into its lockdown.

Verdict: Both administrations took far too long to act upon the expert advice in the autumn of 2020. Credit to the Welsh Government for acting first but they locked down down for too short an amount of time and the subsequent restrictions were too lax. They were somewhat restrained by the UK Government’s actions though this didn’t affect the decision-making after the fire-break. By contrast the UK Government dithered for longer than the Welsh Government but did use the extra available data coming out of Wales to extend their lockdown for longer.

Supporting shielding people at the start of the pandemic

As the pandemic kicked off in spring 2020 vulnerable people were told to shield. This included not going to do their food shop at the supermarket. To get their supplies all of these people turned to the online deliveries by the supermarkets. A scheme to offer priority slots to shielding people in England was created but two weeks after this was set up no such scheme yet existed in Wales.

When pressed about this issue the Welsh Government had initially responded by referring to its own weekly free food box for people without family support networks. However, commendable as this scheme was, it wasn’t useful for many shielding people who had very specific dietary requirements. Additionally many didn’t want handouts – they just wanted to be able to buy their own food. The strangest thing about this was the Welsh Government seemed to have no idea why there was a delay.

Minister for environment, energy, and rural affairs Lesley Griffiths said the delay was because of her personal concerns about data protection issues whereas just two weeks later Mark Drakeford said there was actually “no delay in getting supermarkets the information” but the firms were slow in taking it. When WalesOnline approached the supermarkets they all said the reason for the delay was because the Welsh Government had taken time getting them the information.

Verdict: The scheme in England was set up quickly and efficiently. It allowed vulnerable people to get the supplies they needed. The Welsh Government by contrast were wedded to a system that wasn’t working for too long. Then when they did U-turn they couldn’t decide on the reason for the delay. This may seem like a small thing in the grand scheme of things but it caused real suffering and concern for many of Wales’ most vulnerable. You can read more about it here.

Scrutiny and openness

Everyone agrees that having an open government that allows scrutiny is vital at all times – especially during a pandemic where people’s liberties are being severely restricted. Unfortunately principles of scrutiny and openness are hard to quantify when it comes to comparing the performance of two different administrations. However despite these challenges it is hard to argue any way other than that the UK Government performed considerably worse than the Welsh Government on this issue.

Again this doesn’t mean the Welsh Government didn’t have problems. Mark Drakeford’s insistence on not holding a Welsh-specific inquiry into Covid has been widely condemned – especially from those families who lost loved ones as a direct result of Welsh Government decision-making. The Welsh Government were also glacially slow at times in publishing data related to the virus. Throughout the pandemic, even when they were ordering people to only leave the house once a day, the Welsh Government would only publish the scientific advice underpinning its decisions 10 days after the advice was given. This made real-time scrutiny of their decision making virtually impossible.

However compared to this the UK Government were immensely poor. There is of course the fact that the Prime Minister and Chancellor have been fined by police for breaking the laws they themselves wrote. Then there was the entire Dominic Cummings affair which left cabinet ministers like Michael Gove using political capital and airtime defending the indefensible with Mr Gove saying that he had previously driven “on occasion” to test his eyesight. There was a noticeable drop in compliance with Covid restrictions after the Cummings affair.

Scrutiny also involves making yourself available to answer questions from the media but this was something the UK Government sought to avoid increasingly as the pandemic went on. After the Dominic Cummings affair journalists were no longer allowed to ask a follow-up question (and were muted if they tried to) in UK Government press conferences. In the immediate aftermath England’s chief nursing officer Ruth May was seemingly dropped from the broadcasts after she declined to endorse a view from Boris Johnson’s adviser at the practice session beforehand.

In one press conference England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam said he was happy to answer questions on Cummings saying that: “In my opinion [the rules] are for the benefit of all. In my opinion they apply to all.” This led to a massive scaling back of scientists appearing on the briefing with research by the i newspaper finding that for the first 11 weeks of the Downing Street briefing from mid-March until the end of May 2020 there was a weekly total of between eight and 12 scientific or medical experts alongside ministers. In the first two weeks of June this dropped to four and three respectively. There were also occasions when major changes affecting England (such as the move from “stay home” to “stay alert” in May 2020) were deliberately pre-recorded into order to avoid having to take questions.

By contrast the Welsh Government maintained thrice-weekly press conferences throughout the first two waves of the virus and the attending journalists were permitted to ask follow-up questions. The UK Government also fell short when it came to a public inquiry into Covid. Though they agreed to an inquiry PM Boris Johnson delayed its start to this year so that it will be unlikely to conclude until after the next general election.

Verdict: The Welsh Government’s failure to hold a Welsh-specific Covid inquiry continues to be a real black mark against Mark Drakeford’s administration especially given the great political capital the First Minister made of claiming: “in Wales we do things differently”. Power without accountability is not good. However, set against the backdrop of the UK Government’s conduct, the difference is stark. Literal law-breaking, defending the indefensible, actively avoiding scrutiny, kicking future inquires into the long the grass all of these mean that the Welsh Government far outperformed the UK Government when it came to scrutiny and accountability.

The leaders’ messaging – Johnson v Drakeford

It would be impossible to break down and assess every decision made by the respective leaders of the UK and Welsh Governments through the entire two years of the pandemic. Ultimately all of the big calls throughout the crisis end up at their doors. You could go through this entire article and see it as a judgment on both men’s performance. But both these men are at the head of huge operations and they don’t control the minutiae of every decision. However as the leaders of a country they are uniquely placed to set the tone during a crisis. That can be bringing a sense of calm, conveying a sense of seriousness, or reassuring people that things are in hand. Messaging always matters in politics but during a global pandemic, where slight changes in behaviour can lead to death, getting it right is vital.

Before the first lockdown, on March 3, 2020, Boris Johnson proudly told a press conference that he “was at a hospital the other night where there were actually a few coronavirus patients and I shook hands with everybody you will be pleased to know”. On the very day he said this across the world the number of people infected with Covid-19 hit 90,000 people in more than 40 countries. Of these 3,119 people had already died. In China huge field hospitals had been built, the virus was transmitting in the UK, and Italy had been in a partial lockdown for more than a week as its health service was overwhelmed.

From a Welsh perspective he caused chaos in early May (the first time the rules in Scotland and Wales diverged from England) when he told the people of the UK “you can drive to other destinations” when in fact these rules only applied to England. At no point in this entire speech did he once mention that none of these rules applied to Wales or Scotland or Northern Ireland. There were still travel restrictions on how far you could journey from your home in Wales prompting Welsh police chiefs to implore people in England to not travel to Welsh beaches.

Many times throughout the pandemic, when it came to detail, Boris Johnson was simply not across it. He didn’t even attend many of the Cobra meetings early in the crisis just as the virus was accelerating. He has also admitted attending a 10 Downing Street gathering which broke the law. Whether or not he “knew” about other such instances he was the person in charge.

Contrast this with Mark Drakeford who was forensic in his studying of the latest Covid data. The former academic knew the details. When the details save lives this is a commendable trait.

This isn’t to say that there were not shortcomings in Mr Drakeford’s messaging. Juxtaposed to Mr Johnson many found his dry delivery refreshing though others found him humourless and he failed to bring them with him. This was more the case as the pandemic went on and lockdown fatigue began to bite.

Dr Simon Williams, senior lecturer in people and organisation at Swansea University, told WalesOnline: “Overall polls suggest that the Welsh public had more confidence in the way that the Welsh Government was handling Covid policy in Wales compared to the way in which the UK Government was handling policy in England where confidence was lower. Part of this was to do with communication – the Welsh Government took a more measured and cautious approach to communication whereas oftentimes the UK Government messaging was perceived as being a bit more general and focused on less precise guidance around ‘common sense’ or staying ‘alert’.

“However a major issue for public understanding and compliance was the fact that the messages and communication styles were sometimes different in England and Wales – causing confusion for many and a sense of mixed messages. In our research we called this ‘alert fatigue’. Over time we also saw a shift to more support for a more individual responsibility-focused approach and the more cautious messaging in Wales towards the end generally had less buy-in and support .

“Finally messages and communication don’t take place in a political vacuum and so things like Partygate tended to undermine trust in government and this the advice being given. There were generally less controversies in Wales and Scotland which might have also helped for many a sense of perceived credibility – at least relative to those coming from the UK Government.”

Verdict: The polls, difficult to unpick though they are, suggest the public were far more responsive to Mark Drakeford’s methodical style of leadership and communication. Though frustrations certainly grew with the First Minister in the later stages of the pandemic there is a self-evident advantage of having a leader who is demonstrably across his brief. The very fact that in his messaging Boris Johnson was vocally proclaiming that he was shaking hands with Covid patients demonstrates a serious error of messaging and seriousness. This is to without mention the misleading comments around rules in different parts of the UK.

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