News in brief: £50 million boost for Welsh contact tracing programme
Health Minister Vaughan Gething has announced an extra £50 million to allow health boards to extend their contact tracing programmes over the summer.
The additional funding, on top of £10m previously agreed, will secure the current contact tracing workforce until the end of September and also support improvements to the digital contact tracing system.
Up to the end of last month contact tracers in Wales reached 99.6 per cent of positive cases who were eligible for follow-up, together with 95 per cent of their close contacts.
“Although new case numbers have responded well to the current lockdown restrictions, there are significant uncertainties around the trajectory of the pandemic which means it is highly likely we will need to maintain a substantial contact tracing operation for the foreseeable future, “Mr Gething said.
“Even with the roll-out of the vaccination programme, testing and tracing will remain a vital part of our approach as lockdown restrictions ease and to tackle any new variants as people arrive from overseas.”
The Health Minister also announced today that people who are close contacts of someone who has tested positive and have been asked to isolate by contact tracers will now be offered a coronavirus test and that people who are or have recently experienced homelessness in Wales are to be offered a COVID vaccination as part of priority group 6.
According to data from the Office for National Statistics, people with experience of homelessness have a lower-than-average non-COVID related life expectancy, with mortality at around 31 to 38 years sooner than the general population.
“It is as shocking as it is saddening that those who are homeless are much more likely to have a physical or mental health conditions which put them at a higher risk from the harms of Covid-19,“ Mr Gething said.
“A fundamental principle of our vaccination programme is that no one will be left behind and as part of this commitment, we are already working to ensure it is as easy as possible for every eligible adult in Wales to have a coronavirus vaccine if they want one.”
Public Health Wales has confirmed six further deaths due to Covid-19 and 225 new cases of the virus.
Three of the newly reported deaths were in the Hywel Dda health board area, Betsi Cadwaladr reported two further deaths and there was one in Powys.
Cardiff and Flintshire both recorded 22 new positive tests for the virus in the last 24 hours, while there were no new cases in Ceredigion for the second day in a row.
The weekly case rate in Wales has fallen to 41.9 from 43.9 per 100,000 people yesterday and the positive test proportion is 4.5% for every 100,000 tests.
Merthyr Tydfil has the highest case rate in Wales over the last seven days at 86.2 and the worst positive test proportion at 8.4%.
A total of 1,019,210 people have now received at least a first dose of a Covid vaccine in Wales and 206,394 have had their second jab.
Plaid presses for extension of Covid protection measures for private tenants
Plaid Cymru has called for the Welsh Government to extend the current ban on evictions beyond the end of this month to give private tenants extra protection while coronavirus restrictions remain in place.
Last month a new law was passed in the Senedd that provided more security to private tenants, but this doesn’t come into effect until spring 2022.
The new legislation will ensure the minimum notice periods in the case of ‘no fault evictions’ must be extended from two to six months.
Under current coronavirus regulations evictions are banned, bailiffs are unable to attend properties and the notice periods for tenants have been extended but these measures will all come to an end on 31 March.
The government reviews the Covid regulations at least every three weeks, but at the last review on 18 February, it was decided that no changes would be made.
The next review point is on Thursday and is the last review point before the end of the eviction ban.
Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Minister for Housing, Delyth Jewell MS described the delay in announcing an extension as “an assault on private tenants’ stability”.
“In one breath, the Labour Welsh Government is at pains to tell us that restrictions are unlikely to be significantly changed until Easter, and yet in another, fails to extend security to private tenants, who fear being evicted in the middle of a pandemic,” she said.
“Every incremental postponement in a landlord’s ability to evict serves to prolong tenants’ anxiety, since they don’t have a long period of time in which they can feel settled in their homes.
“With only one more regulation review period before the end of March, Welsh Government’s last minute approach only increases the cloud hanging over these tenants.”
Eviction protection extended for struggling businesses
The Welsh Government has extended measures to protect retail, hospitality, tourism and other businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic from eviction until the end of June 2021.
The moratorium against evictions for non-payment of rent was due to end on 31 March.
Businesses are being advised to continue to pay rent wherever possible, but the government says the latest measure will ensure no business is forced out of its premises if it misses a payment between now and the end of June this year.
“The past year has placed untold pressures on our firms and our people as we deal with coronavirus and that is why we have moved at pace to support the business community through the pandemic with a package worth in excess of £2 billion,” Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales Ken Skates, said.
“Today’s announcement of the extension of measures to prevent forfeiture for the non-payment of rent builds on that and is crucial in protecting businesses from eviction and securing jobs and livelihoods over the coming months.
“We will continue to do all that we can to help them through these incredibly challenging times.”
Conwy county boarding school hit by Covid outbreak.
Jez Hemming, local democracy reporter
Seventeen Covid-19 infections have been reported at a boarding school near Llandudno.
The outbreak was confirmed by Conwy county council at the private boarding school St David’s College.
In a statement, the council said: “Conwy County Borough Council, North Wales Test, Trace and Protect and Public Health Wales are working closely with St David’s College in Llandudno in relation to a number of cases of Covid-19 linked to the setting.”
The authority’s leader Cllr Sam Rowlands told a cabinet meeting on Tuesday that the seven-day rate of coronavirus infections per 100,000 of the population had dropped from 91.2 to 61.4 in the previous two weeks.
However, he said the cluster of infections “may affect the numbers we have had in recent times” – but didn’t name the source of the outbreak at that time.
He added: “We are aware of the increase and it is being contained and managed in the right way.”
In a statement, the school said: “There have been several cases of Covid 19 linked to St David’s College.
“The campus is an enclosed site and residents are isolating according to the instructions issued by the Welsh Government.
“The school is working closely with the Environmental Health Office, Public Health Wales and Test, Trace & Protect and all the advised precautions are currently in place.”
New funding boosts incentives to recruit more apprentices
An additional £18.7 million of funding has been made available by the Welsh Government to extend incentives to support businesses in recruiting apprentices in Wales.
The Employer Incentive Scheme, which will now run until 30 September, is described as a key part of the government’s covid commitment to support businesses and workers in recovering from the impacts of coronavirus.
Since the programme was Launched in autumn last year more than 1,300 new apprentices have been recruited.
The new funding means businesses will be able to claim up to £4,000 for each new apprentice they hire under the age of 25, an increase from the previous £3,000 grant that was on offer.
The £4,000 incentive will be available to all businesses that are employing a young apprentice for at least 30 hours per week.
Businesses could also receive £2,000 for each apprentice under 25 they employ for less than 30 hours a week, an increase of £500.
For workers aged 25 and over, businesses can access £2,000 for each new apprentice they hire on a 30 hour or more contract, and a £1,000 incentive for apprentices working less than 30 hours.
Payments are restricted to ten learners per business.
Dedicated funding is also available to recruit disabled people and for workers who lost a previous apprenticeship position because of COVID-19.