News in brief: ‘Concerning’ rise in Delta variant cases linked to community transmission
Health officials say there is evidence the Delta variant of Covid-19 is now spreading through Wales due to community transmission.
Figures released yesterday by Public Health Wales confirmed 81 new cases have been identified since last Thursday, taking the total number of people infected to 178.
Cases had been concentrated in clusters in both the north and south of Wales and were linked to international travel, however most health boards across the country are now reporting infections involving the variant.
In the Senedd yesterday, Mabon ap Gwynfor, MS for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, revealed he had been informed by Gwynedd public protection there was no “direct link between the cluster of Covid cases in the Porthmadog area and foreign travel.’
Dr Giri Shankar, PHW coronavirus response incident director, told BBC Wales, “We have previously said that we expect the number of Delta variant cases in Wales to go up, but it is nevertheless concerning to see this increase.”
“The increase is likely to be driven in part by the transmissibility of the variant, which we know is easier to catch than the previously dominant Alpha variant.
“However, increased mixing also contributes to transmission, and this may be playing a part too.”
“I think we are on the cusp of moving from limited household close contact transmission to contained community transmission, but the concern is that could progress to become sustained community transmission,” he added.
The Delta variant was first identified in India in April and is believed to be up to 50% more transmissible than the Alpha variant which sparked the second wave of the pandemic late last year. Research suggests vaccines have reduced effectiveness against the variant especially in those that have received just one jab.
Health Minister Eluned Morgan MS, confirmed in the Senedd yesterday the government is considering plans to accelerate the vaccine programme in areas that have been hardest hit by the new variant.
According to Public Health England, over 12,000 cases have been recorded in the UK, mostly in England and Scotland, and hospital admissions due to Covid are up 20% in England since 22 May.
Meanwhile, today’s update from PHW confirms no new Coronavirus deaths for the 14th day in a row and just 22 new cases of the virus across Wales.
Eleven of 22 local authorities reported no new infections since yesterday’s report, while Cardiff and Bridgend recorded the highest number with four new positive tests for the virus each.
Conwy, at the centre of an outbreak of the Delta variant, continues to have the highest weekly case rate in Wales at 19.6 per 100,000 people for the week ending 6 June. Swansea is next highest at 18.2 and has the highest proportion of positive tests in Wales at 2.7% from every 100,000 tests.
The national case rate is 9.0 and the test rate is 1.2%.
UK Government blasted over international aid cuts
UK Government proposals to cut international aid have been described as a disgrace by Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson on international development.
The plans have sparked a rebellion within the Conservative Party, but the Prime Minister is refusing to give MPs a vote on his decision to cut aid from the legally mandated 0.7% of national income to 0.5%.
“I note from a Welsh perspective that smaller European countries have met their 0.7% GDP target – Denmark, Sweden, Luxemburg, Norway. Indeed, Sweden has provided aid not to 0.7% but to 1.14% of their GDP. Sweden and the others can do this, and they achieve the 0.7% and more. Unfortunately, the UK can but choose not to,” he said during a debate at Westminster yesterday.
“Leading figures in Welsh public life and local constituents alike have expressed their dismay, describing this as a double blow to the world’s poorest communities at a time of the pandemic.
“The Labour Welsh Government themselves say in their policy document on international matters on their agenda. They say, “we are committed to promoting social justice, fairness and equality”. What value have these fair words from the Welsh Government when we are tied to and overruled by this mean spirited and short-sighted policy from the Westminster government?”
“The UN population fund is to be cut by 85%, UNICEF’s core funding to children to be cut by 60%, the total funding to be cut by £4.5bn. Those figures would be a disgrace to any country. But given this government’s pretentions to be a leading global power and an example to others, they are not only a disgrace but also a major self-inflicted blow to the UK’s international standing.”
Government ministers ‘need to pull their finger out’ over new transport regulations
Jez Hemming, local democracy reporter
A council education leader said the UK Government ministers “really need to pull their finger out” to solve a problem costing councils thousands of pounds to transport post-16 learners.
Cllr Julie Fallon, Conwy county council’s education spokeswoman, made the charge during the authority’s cabinet meeting on Tuesday.
The council has been forced to scrap transport charges for post-16 learners for a second year because progress on finding a workaround to new UK Government transport regulations stalled in the pandemic.
The idea to bill post-16 learners £80 per term for school transport had to be scrubbed last year after the Government finally introduced the Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations (PSVAR), 2000.
The law puts a duty on companies with coaches and buses designed to carry more than 22 passengers to make them accessible to disabled passengers.
A court case challenging the rules established this applied to any journeys where payment was taken.
In detail it means school buses across North Wales could only be used for free travel or charge fewer than 20% of those using a particular bus service to comply with the regulations.
Any buses wishing to charge 20% of passengers or more under the rules would still need to conform to stringent new disability access standards.
Even second-hand PSVAR-compliant vehicles can cost upwards of £40,000, meaning operators are faced with massive bills for replacing buses and coaches – and having to raise costs.
This could leave cash-strapped councils facing bigger transport bills or having to pass on extra charges to students and their families.
No headway has been made with Government on finding a solution, so Cllr Fallon said they had to defer charges for yet another year.
She said: “We want to highlight the lack of progress with the Government.
“They really need to pull their finger out and deal with this. Obviously it’s incredibly costly for bus companies to make these changes.
“If the charges are being forced through by Government they need to see how they can help implement it.”
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