News in brief: Cautious welcome for long-awaited NHS contact tracing app
First Minister Mark Drakeford has given a guarded welcome to the new NHS Covid-19 contact tracing app, which is currently being trialled and will be launched in Wales and England on 24 September.
The app, backed by the UK Government had originally been due to roll out in England in May.
That launch was subsequently moved to June before it was scrapped following a failed trial on the Isle of Wight.
The new app has been designed in cooperation with Apple and Google.
Mr Drakeford said he was “more confident than I would have been about the previous version” adding that the Welsh Government had been “more closely engaged” in the development of the new app.
“The advice I have from people in the Welsh Government who have been using it as part of the trial is that it is succeeding and doing the job that it is set up to do,” he added.
“Everything that I am told so far makes me more confident that this will be a useful and usable device in Wales and, provided it turns out to be that it will certainly have our support.”
The new app uses the phone’s Bluetooth connection to keep a record of which phones spend 15 minutes within 2 metres of one another and then alerts people if they have been near someone who later tests positive for Covid-19.
People’s phones are only recognised by the system if they are also running the app.
Businesses across Wales like pubs, restaurants, hairdressers, and cinemas, are being encouraged to have NHS QR code posters visible on entry, so customers who have downloaded the app can use their smartphones to check-in.
This will enable users to keep a record diary of the locations they have visited, which will be held securely in the app.
If there is a COVID-19 outbreak linked to their visit, they will get an early warning alert from the NHS.
The Scottish Government launched the ‘Protect Scotland’ contact tracing app yesterday. Northern Ireland launched its own app, built in cooperation with the Irish Republic, in July.
164 new cases of coronavirus have been reported in today’s update from Public Health Wales. The total number of people to test positive for Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic is now 19,228.
In Caerphilly, where a local lockdown has been in place since Tuesday, there have been a further 20 cases and PHW has confirmed another 25 cases In Rhondda Cynon Taf.
Health officials are to meet on Monday to discuss introducing lockdowns in both Merthyr Tydfil and Rhondda Cynon Taf.
Merthyr has the second highest infection rate in Wales, behind Caerphilly, with 56.4 cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days.
On Friday 10,337 tests were carried out across Wales.
There have been no new deaths due to the virus in Wales for the 11th straight day. The total number of deaths dating back to March remains 1,597.
Plaid Cymru and TUC press for mandatory face coverings in schools.
Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price has welcomed the new rules on face coverings in Wales that come into force on Monday but has also called for the wearing of mask to be made mandatory in schools.
First Minister Mark Drakeford announced yesterday that in an effort to slow the ongoing rise in cases of Covid-19, people in Wales must wear face masks in shops and other indoor public spaces from next week or could face a fine of up to £1,920.
Earlier this week the government committed £2.3 million to provide free face masks for all learners in secondary school and further education but face coverings are not currently mandatory in Welsh schools.
Dr Frank Atherton the Chief Medical Officer has recommended their use in a range of settings, subject to a risk assessment, including communal areas of schools and school transport where the physical layout means that social distancing is not possible.
Mr Price said: “Plaid Cymru has been calling for months for mandatory face coverings in shops and indoor settings so it is very welcome that the Welsh Government has now changed its mind on this.
“There are still however issues around their use in other high-risk settings that must be addressed. In schools at the moment it’s down to individual local authorities and school headteachers to decide on face coverings, but to be consistent there should be a mandatory policy throughout Wales.”
The Wales TUC has also called for the mandatory use of masks in secondary school, General Secretary in Wales Shavanah Taj said: “The Welsh Government should now also extend the mandatory use of face masks to secondary schools – in line with practice across the rest of the UK.”
In Scotland pupils and staff must wear face coverings when moving about within secondary schools following the introduction of new rules that came into force last week.
The rules also apply on school transport for all secondary pupils and primary pupils aged over five, but pupils do not have to wear face coverings in classrooms. Similar rules have also been introduced in Northern Ireland.
In England students are required to wear face coverings in communal areas but only in schools affected by local lockdowns.
Japan trade deal welcomed as minister stresses need for EU agreement
Eluned Morgan MS, Minister for International Relations, has welcomed the announcement of the new trade deal agreed by the UK Government with Japan on Friday and called for progress from Westminster in talks on a new trade agreement with the EU.
Last year trade in goods between Wales and Japan was worth £935.1 million, making Japan the 12th largest export market and 6th largest import market.
Due to Brexit, If the UK had failed to reach agreement in time for ratification by the 31 December, trade with Japan would have to be conducted under World Trade Organisation rules which would have resulted in the imposition of barriers to trade compared to the current arrangements.
In a written statement, the minister said: “I hope that this will give increased confidence to Welsh companies who export to Japan and will encourage Welsh SMEs to consider Japan as an export market for their goods.
“We also require a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU in order to realise the full benefits of this agreement. Unfortunately, achieving such an agreement before the end of this year when we leave the transition period is far from certain while – unlike this agreement with Japan – it is already clear that any FTA with the EU will make trading with our largest market significantly more difficult.
“I call on the UK Government to redouble its efforts to reach an ambitious FTA with the EU as quickly as possible.”
Funding of advice services extended
The Welsh Government has announced it is extended funding for debt, employment, and benefit advice until March 2021
The Single Advice Fund was set up in January with £8.04 million of government support. Led by Citizens Advice Cymru, the scheme provides free advice on debt, housing, employment, welfare.
The initial funding was due to run until the end of the year.
Rebecca Woolley, Director of Citizens Advice Cymru said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted just how important it is for people to be able to quickly access accurate and independent advice. We’ve made huge changes to our service to accommodate changing guidelines and make sure that we’re available to people whatever the circumstances.
“We’re delighted that the Welsh Government has extended the Single Advice Fund until March next year. We will continue to work with our partners to support people through any issues, not only Covid-19, to give them the knowledge and confidence they need to find their way forward – whoever they are, and whatever their problem.”
Government announces new support for Credit Unions
Additional funding of up to £1m will be invested in Credit Unions by the government to ensure they can provide access to fair and affordable credit for people affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Credit unions, in line with many financial service providers, saw loan requests decline during lockdown.
Although loan requests are now beginning to return to pre-lockdown levels, the drop will have an impact on their incomes.
The Welsh Government is therefore providing up to a further £1million through the Credit Union Capital Loan Fund.
Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government, Hannah Blythyn, who announced the funding today, said: “Credit unions provide an excellent and ethical way for people to save regularly and borrow affordably and responsibly.
“They feature strongly in our efforts to tackle poverty and will continue to play a key role in building financial resilience.”