Mark Drakeford has said there is no need for a specific Covid inquiry in Wales because the world has “moved on”.
Mr Drakeford has always said there would not be a Wales-only investigation and instead specific focus on the Welsh response to the pandemic should be made in the UK-wide inquiry.
Andrew RT Davies, Conservative Senedd group leader, pressed Mr Drakeford again this week on whether a Wales inquiry would take place.
Mr Drakeford said the opposition leader could continue to make his case for one “as long and as loudly as he likes, in the meantime the world has moved on”.
An inquiry was “not going to happen”, he said, adding that “there will be no inquiry of that sort here in Wales”.
His comments were met with audible gasps and shock in the Senedd.
A Welsh Government spokesman later said Mr Drakeford was referring to a statement issued by the Covid Bereaved Families for Justice Cymru (CBFJC) on Tuesday which said they had “shifted their focus” to a UK-wide inquiry.
But the group rejected the First Minister’s interpretation and said “We haven’t ‘moved on’.”
Anna-Louise Marsh-Rees, of the CBFJC, said on Twitter: “I wrote the statement saying we are now focusing on Wales in UK inquiry. It’s not cos we’ve moved on from a Wales inquiry it’s cos we have no choice.”
Wales had some of the strictest coronavirus rules during the pandemic and was accused of “overreacting” to the omicron wave.
In January, the First Minister accused Boris Johnson of failing to protect people in England from Covid after the then prime minister ruled further restrictions were not needed in response to the variant.
He also called England a global “outlier” when it came to dealing with coronavirus.
Covid regulations were only fully lifted in Wales in May, after more than two years, with the legal requirement to wear a face mask in health settings scrapped.
In October 2020 Mr Drakeford enforced a “fire-break” lockdown on the country after a rise in cases, contrary to actions being taken by the Westminster government.
The 17-day lockdown was overshadowed by the ban on supermarkets selling non-essential items. Photos of books and electronics taped off in plastic were shared on social media by confused members of the public.
Mr Drakeford described the lockdown as a "short, sharp shock to turn back the clock, slow down the virus and buy us more time".
But his plan ultimately failed, as the case rate per 100,000 remained largely unchanged from when the country first entered (231) the lockdown compared with the end (230).
The country also received criticism for retaining face mask rules on public transport after they were scrapped in England. When England lifted mandatory face coverings in July 2021 Transport for Wales (TfW) asked passengers to continue wearing them on journeys into England. In August TfW and British Transport Police carried out a week of patrols on Wales’ rail network to enforce mask wearing.
Opposition parties have continually criticised Mr Drakeford’s rejection of a Welsh-only inquiry. Rhun ap Iorwerth MS, Plaid Cymru’s spokesman for health and care, said last year: “The loss of life, as well as the loss of freedoms, of education, and a deep economic impact will weigh heavy on us for years to come. We’ll need to look at what happened in detail, and in public, to learn lessons for the future.”
He added that with so many policy areas devolved and individual decisions taken by the Welsh government “we need a Wales-specific inquiry”.
“Government has to take responsibility for its actions – good and bad, and there should be no avoidance of detailed scrutiny,” he said.
Official inquiry's first hearing
Mr Drakeford’s comments to the Senedd came on the same day as the official UK Covid inquiry held its first preliminary hearing.
The CBFJC has been designated as a core participant in the first module of the inquiry which will explore the UK’s pandemic preparedness.
At the opening hearing, Kirsten Heaven, representing CBFJC, said there were concerns in Wales that the preliminary scope of the first module “does not set out in any detail the issues specific to Wales”.
She added: “It is vitally important that the people of Wales can have confidence that this public inquiry will scrutinise decision-making in Wales in response to the pandemic.”
A Welsh Government spokesman said: “We are determined to ensure our actions and decisions – and those of other public services in Wales – are fully and properly scrutinised. The UK-wide inquiry is best placed to oversee the interconnected nature of the decisions that have been made across the four nations.”