News in brief: Chief Medical Officer voiced concerns over nightclubs reopening
Chief Medical Officer Dr Frank Atherton, highlighted concerns over the reopening of nightclubs in his advice to the Welsh Government prior to the removal of most Covid restrictions in Wales at the weekend.
Dr Atherton also described the UK Government’s unilateral decision to remove quarantine requirement for fully vaccinated travellers from amber-list countries, confirmed last week, as a major risk.
First Minister Mark Drakeford announced nightclubs could reopen for the first time in almost 18 moths as part of the country’s move to level zero on Friday, and thousands of people across Wales poured into clubs at the weekend to celebrate.
In his advice presented to the First Minister, Dr Artherton warned, “the opening of night clubs requires careful consideration.”
“Closed throughout the pandemic, they are crowded and noisy, often not well ventilated, with large numbers of people drinking and not socially distanced. They are high risk settings with super-spreader potential.
“However, those in the population at highest risk are now protected by vaccination and there are other relatively favourable conditions mentioned above. Whatever the timing of nightclubs opening, there will always be an element of public health risk,” he added.
Citing concerns over the “major risk” of new variants being imported into Wales, the Chief Medical Officer also criticised the UK Government over its latest revision of international travel regulations.
“The change to remove quarantine and relax testing requirements for fully vaccinated adult arrivals from amber-list countries is not without risk, increasing opportunities for variant infections to arrive in the UK and Wales,” Dr Atherton said.
“Vaccines can help reduce this risk, but only if they are still effective.
“A cautious approach is therefore warranted to relaxing border health requirements, because of increasing variant case incidence rates globally and still incomplete vaccine coverage in Wales. Although border health measures go some way to protect against the importation of infection and the introduction of new variants into the UK, we should continue to work with other UK nations to further strengthen our border control arrangements.
“Continued restrictions on international travel may be warranted if we see case rates begin to increase,” he concluded.
Last week Welsh ministers slammed the UK Government for changing the rules on international travel for England, “without engagement” and Health Minister Eluned Morgan said the move was “unacceptable”, adding, “international travel policy affects all parts of the UK and Welsh interests need to be part of the decision-making process”.
Three new Covid deaths confirmed as case rates show small rise across Wales
Three more deaths due to Covid-19 and 1,364 new positive tests for the virus have been reported in the 48 hours up to 9am on Sunday morning.
According to the latest update from Public Health Wales, the newly recorded deaths were in the Cardiff and Vale, Cwm Taf Morgannwg and Swansea Bay health board areas. The total number of deaths since the since the start of the pandemic is now 5,629.
Cardiff had the highest number of new cases with 139 reported over the early part of the weekend, followed by 98 in Newport and 92 in Swansea.
The surge in cases fuelled by the Delta Covid variant appears to be subsiding in Denbighshire, where the weekly case rate remains the worst in Wales but has finally fallen below 300, to currently stand at 290.5 per 100,000 people, a fall of over 28 points since Friday.
The positivity rate is also down, from 15.6% to 15.5% pr 100,000 test since yesterday’s report.
The national case rate is up from 132.5 to 133.4 since Friday and the positivity rate has also increase, from 9.7% to 9.8%.
Minister welcomes green light forvGlobal Centre of Rail Excellence
Economy Minister, Vaughan Gething, has welcomed votes last week from planning committees in Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council and Powys County Council, which have given the green light for the development of the £80 million Global Centre of Rail Excellence.
The facility, which has received £50m in funding from the Welsh Government and an additional £30m from the UK Government, will be located on the site of Nant Helen opencast mine in Onllwyn, which is currently operated by Celtic Energy.
The centre will be a train, rail infrastructure and technology testing facility, which the government claims will provide “a unique capability” in the UK and across Europe and will put Wales on the map as “the go-to country” for UK and international train manufacturers, network operators, the wider industry.
“I’m delighted the new Global Centre of Rail Excellence in Onllwyn has been granted planning permission by Councillors at Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council and Powys County Council,” Economy Minister, Vaughan Gething said.
“The new centre will help create the next generation of high-quality jobs, attracting new investment and opportunities for local people, driving new technologies and innovation, and helping us to realise our ambition of creating a stronger and more prosperous economy, in a greener, cleaner and stronger Wales.”
The Welsh Government has been working in partnership with Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council and Powys County Council to develop proposals for the GCRE and a joint venture was established in 2019.
A land option deal has already been completed for the sites at the Nant Helen surface mine and Onllwyn coal washery, which will see Celtic Energy gift all the land necessary for the project.
Council care staff shortage blamed on Brexit
Liam Randall, local democracy reporter
A shortage of social care workers in Flintshire has left a local authority struggling to cope with the demand for services, it’s been warned.
Staff leaving for higher paid jobs in other industries and the end of freedom of movement after Brexit are said to be the main causes of the recruitment problems.
Earlier this week, Flintshire Council officials called an “urgent meeting” of key organisations to discuss the issue.
The authority’s chief executive said the pressure being faced had led to some care packages being reviewed.
Addressing a remote meeting of councillors, Colin Everett said: “We’re beginning to see lots of cracks now in workforce availability for social care.
“Some of it is difficulty to recruit, some of it is agencies not having the same books that they once had and some of it unfortunately is lower paid workers in that sector leaving for other sectors that are offering inducements.
“We know there’s been often a flit between lower paid work in social care and retail.
“Hospitality is struggling for workforce and that is a post-Brexit issue as well, so people have been attracted from other sectors to make good those gaps.”
He added: “Workforce generally is becoming quite a crisis area for a number of sectors.
“At this stage it doesn’t put us in a crisis point but if social care colleagues were here, they would be saying they’re struggling to keep up with demands in domiciliary care.”
Cllr Richard Jones, chair of the council’s recovery committee, said he had witnessed the shortage of staff in the care industry first hand.
He said agency workers in particular were being attracted elsewhere.
Mr Everett added recruitment problems could also have a knock-on effect on other parts of the health system.
He said: “Inevitably, if we have delays in those areas, it not just a point of having to prioritise needs as it can have a backwash into health and delayed discharges.
“That’s an emerging theme of the last couple of weeks that were treated with great seriousness at a regional level.”
He said a report on the situation would be brought to councillors at a later date.
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