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Journalist slams government bid to ‘dodge scrutiny’ over FoI refusal

A journalist has accused government chiefs of trying to “dodge scrutiny” over their refusal to release information about the coronavirus pandemic.

Wales Online’s Welsh affairs editor Will Hayward has hit out at the Welsh Government after it rejected a Freedom Of Information request asking for the release of ministerial advice and other documents that informed policies on Covid-19 testing for care home staff and residents in early 2020.

The request was submitted by Plaid Cymru after a Wales Online investigation proved that policymakers were made aware of the risks posed by asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 before they began testing.

Vaughan Gething, the Welsh Government’s then-Health Minister, had initially refused to test anyone who had no symptoms for Covid during the early stages of the pandemic.

Welsh Gov Covid

In its response to Plaid Cymru’s FoI, the Labour-run administration admitted holding the requested information but said it will not be released at this stage because it could be published through the United Kingdom-wide Public Inquiry into the pandemic.

It argued releasing the documents now “could lead to confusion and lack of clarity without the wider context and sharing of other related policy and decisions”, further claiming that “the wider public interest is best served by the methodical approach being adopted by the inquiry”.

The rejected request provided a splash for Wales Online’s Reach plc print sister daily the Western Mail on Monday, pictured above.

Will said: “It is hard to see this decision as anything other than an attempt to save face and dodge scrutiny. There is no guarantee that the Covid Inquiry will even directly look at this particular evidence.

“Important scrutiny of the Welsh Government by opposition parties, the media and the public should not be delayed simply because someone else may look at it.

“The rationale put forward by the Welsh Government simply doesn’t add up and is frankly patronising. The idea that people will be unable to understand the decision-making process around Wales’ care home scandal unless it is part of the inquiry evidence is ridiculous.

“I would suggest the Welsh Government is far more concerned that the information will be used by their political opponents to criticise their decision making.

“The fact that the Welsh Government are pushing ahead with more Senedd Members to ‘increase scrutiny’ while simultaneously not equipping the current MSs to properly scrutinise them is, in my view, hypocritical.”