News in brief: Conservatives call for return of shielding as Covid cases climb
Welsh Conservative health spokesperson, Andrew RT Davies, has called for the introduction of a “compassionate shielding” process for people who have “specific pre-existing and long-term serious health conditions” that makes them more vulnerable to COVID-19.
Around 130,000 people in Wales were advised to take shielding measures in March because they were at a high risk of developing serious illnesses if they contracted the virus.
Shielding was ended in August as the number of cases of the virus declined.
The current advice from the government, which hasn’t been changed since the middle of November, is for people who were previously shielding to take the same protective measures as the general population.
“As we respond to the new challenges of coronavirus, the Welsh Labour Government should immediately consider the introduction of a compassionate shielding process,” Mr Davies said.
“Ministers have a duty to protect the most vulnerable in society and with serious concerns over the new variant, it’s only right that we do everything we can to place a protective ring around those most at risk.
“We first called for shielding to be resumed at the start of autumn and we acknowledge it is not an easy or painless process but key lessons regarding loneliness and isolation should have been learnt by ministers during the first wave.
“We believe it is imperative the Welsh Labour Government now prioritises a compassionate shielding plan that includes a number of financial, leisure and emotional supportive measures for those most at risk in Wales to help save lives.”
Alongside the resumption of shielding, Davies has also called on the Welsh Labour Government to introduce a ‘Winter Protection Plan’ to support those most at risk, including:
- New food box scheme for the 130,000 people in Wales on the shielding list
- Urgent financial package of support for those ‘shielding’ who are unable to work
- Work with retailers to introduce a dedicated supermarket shopping slot
- Secure priority service from energy suppliers like the previous agreements with retailers
- A ‘physical and mental well-being guarantee’ from the Welsh Government ensuring that people can continue to leave their homes for exercise and a commitment the ‘bubble’ and extended household rule will be maintained.
Dr Frank Atherton, the Chief Medical Officer for Wales, ruled out reintroducing shielding for people most vulnerable to COVID-19 in October prior to the introduction of the nationwide firebreak lockdown.
Coronavirus death toll in Wales exceeds 4,000
Latest figures from the Office for National statistics have confirmed 223 deaths involving COVID-19 in Wales for the week ending 11 December, up from 207 the previous week and 27.4% of all deaths in the country.
Total deaths from all causes for the week covered by the survey were down from 836 to 814 over the preceding week but were 17.5% higher (121 deaths) than the five-year average for the same period.
For the week ending 4 December excess deaths were 23% higher than average.
According to the ONS, the total number of deaths in Wales involving COVID-19 from the start of the pandemic is 4,200.
57 deaths were recorded over the week in the Aneurin Bevan health board area, Swansea Bay recorded 52 and there were 36 covid-related deaths in Cwm Taf Morgannwg.
Deaths counted by the ONS are when COVID-19 is mentioned by doctors on the death certificate and which occur in all settings – including hospitals, care homes, hospices and people’s homes.
The daily figures released by Public Health Wales only include the deaths of a hospital patients or care home resident where COVID-19 has been confirmed with a positive laboratory test and the clinician suspects this was a causative factor in the death.
According to PHW’s latest figures there have been 24 deaths since yesterday taking the total since the start of the pandemic to 3,149.
The latest data has also confirmed 2,761 new cases of the virus in the last 24 hours. Cardiff (388) had the highest number in the country, followed by Rhondda Cynon Taf (325) and Swansea (273).
Merthyr Tydfil continues to have the highest weekly case rate in Wales at 1,317.8% per 100,000 people, up from 1,269.8 yesterday.
Neath Port Talbot has the highest weekly positive test proportion in Wales at 32.7% up from 31.8% per 100,000 tests in Monday’s report.
Covid outbreak declared at DVLA centre
A coronavirus outbreak has been declared at the DVLA centre at Swansea.
Public Health Wales says there have been 352 confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the centre since September and 62 have been identified since the beginning of December.
Staff are being asked to get tested for the virus at the site over the next two days.
Siôn Lingard from Public Health Wales said: “We would like to encourage all staff at the contact centre to take up the offer of testing available on the site until Wednesday, 23 December,” said
“Finding cases early is key to reducing transmission and risks to those around you.
“But workers in any workplace may be at risk from infection in social or household settings.”
Fears smaller authorities disadvantaged by regional committee plan
Saul Cooke-Black, local democracy reporter
Smaller local authorities risk being disadvantaged by contentious plans to create new regional public bodies in Wales, Blaenau Gwent councillors have said.
The Welsh Government is consulting on proposals to establish four corporate joint committees to cover the north, mid, south-east and south-west regions of the country.
They would be tasked with making decisions on issues such as regional transport, planning and economic development.
The South East Wales committee would be based on the set-up of the current Cardiff Capital Region City Deal, which includes the five Gwent councils.
Councils are now being asked for their views on the governance arrangements of the new committees, which are expected to start meeting in September 2021.
But concerns over how the new set-up would benefit Blaenau Gwent were raised by councillors at a meeting last week.
Cllr Steve Thomas, Labour group leader, said the proposal “distracts from the core issue of re-organisation”.
“I do believe this is another tier, if not of local government, it’s certainly another tier of confusion,” he said.
“We already have the City Deal. This is replicating what that already does, and I don’t see any need for it.”
Cllr Thomas said that instead of the proposal, “full and frank discussions” were needed about re-organisation amid financial pressures facing the council.
An application for a voluntary merger between Blaenau Gwent and Torfaen councils was made in 2014 but the plans were rejected.
Cllr Lyn Elias said the area had been “badly let down”, and that regional partnerships had failed to address issues such as deprivation and unemployment in the borough.
“I do not think this is a benefit to this particular area,” he said.
“I am concerned the money we want for our communities, to help make us a bit more prosperous, it’s not going to be coming here,” he said.
Cllr Hedley McCarthy said the proposal would “amount to crumbs for Blaenau Gwent”.
“It’s not exactly another tier of local government but it’s another tear in the fabric of local democracy”, he added.
Council leader Cllr Nigel Daniels, said he had concerns over corporate joint committees being mandated by Welsh Government and the potential of decisions being made without a power of veto.
But he disputed claims Blaenau Gwent is seen as “the poor relation in South East Wales” and said City Deal leaders “work together to get the region as equitably balanced as possible”.
The council’s Labour group proposed objecting to the plan by refusing to take part in the consultation.
However, Cllr Daniels said that would be a “token gesture”, and that the council would get its voice heard by raising its concerns in the consultation.
The council voted in favour of submitting a response, which includes concerns “detriment may arise for smaller councils particularly in areas where decisions may be imposed without a power of veto and consequently the best interests of its communities may not be served, with a concentration of power being held by larger councils”.