With cases of Covid-19 rising again, our correspondent The Commentator, who lives in Caerphilly, describes the reality of life under lockdown for parts of Wales.
We now seem to be in the process of changing the expression ‘avoid like the plague’ to ‘avoid like the Covid’. Unless you are a hermit and normally put yourself into a permanent state of self-isolation, you cannot fail to have had your life altered in some respect by Covid-19. The virus that initially hit us like an invading Martian horde in March, keeps on seeking to reinvade as soon as our arsenal of medical and health weaponry becomes ineffective, and is still impacting on everything here.
Across the Gwent and Mid Glamorgan valleys, which I travel through regularly in my work, I have noticed an increasing sense of doom; that the cure is becoming worse than the virus. From the car tyre workshop manager who told me recently that despite never having been closed during the whole of lockdown, his business has now become flat (like the tyres he replaces) because “people simply aren’t driving as much now”. To the myriad of young people who have either lost their jobs or never gained them at all in the hospitality and leisure industries. They all point to a picture of the valleys economies’ prospects looking as bleak as they were in the 1920s and 1930s.
“Nothing new is starting, and much of what was on hold is now stopping altogether” was one comment I heard recently. Of course the whole world is suffering but for those in the South Wales valleys the good times of the 1990s and 2000s weren’t really that good, and they are again a place which the bright and talented seek to leave rather than come to. While London’s incomes across these decades have risen to become between 10 or 15 times per person what they are currently in Merthyr Tydfil or Blaenau Gwent, the valleys remain the poorest parts of the European Union (EU). Now having voted to leave, they will become the poorest parts of Europe once more.
Pubs and cafes that have filled up the streets of many a valley’s town replacing departed banks and failing chain stores, now have lost much of their custom and teeter on the brink of closure themselves. Tourism, the hope of some new job creation across the often beautiful, historic and scenic valleys, is now effectively dead. The investment in auto and aircraft manufacturing, as the high-quality jobs replaced the hundreds of thousands lost in steel and coal, now itself seems to be destined to follow the rapid decline of putting money into the smoke stack industries. All this is directly the result of Covid-19.
Any hope? There may be a sudden economic bounce back following a Covid vaccine. But perhaps the patient is already too ill and sickly to make a recovery, even back to becoming the sickly child it once was, and in need of regular government as well as European medicine to keep alive.
In the 1930s, so bad was the depression in Merthyr Tydfil, that the UK Government made serious plans to relocate the whole population to the South Wales coast. This may not be needed now, but that sort of grand government planning to bring the jobs to workers rather than the other way around may be the only way to ensure that the South Wales valleys have a future – let’s see what the political parties offer as a solution in the May 2021 Welsh Parliament/Senedd Cymru (WP/SC) elections. Those polices will come, of course, amid Brexit, and the Abolish the Assembly Party which wishes to pass the valleys futures on to the indifferent civil servants of Whitehall in London.
As if things weren’t bad enough already!
Tomorrow – further worrying news for Wales’ biggest airport.
Our Editor Phil Parry’s memories of his astonishing 37-year award-winning career in journalism (reporting the views of people in difficult situations) as he was gripped by the rare disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order the book now!