News in brief: Covid case rate in Wales falls for the sixth day in a row
The Covid case rate in Wales has gone down for the sixth day in a row according to the latest figures released by Public Health Wales.
Over the week ending 30 September, 16,725 people tested positive for the virus, resulting in a fall in the national rate from 559.4 per 100,000 people to 530.5 since yesterday’s report – the lowest since 12 September.
Two further deaths due to Covid-19 were reported in the last 24 hours, in the Aneurin Bevan and Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board areas, taking the total number of deaths recorded by PHW to 5,926 since the start of the pandemic.
Torfaen currently has the highest case rate in Wales at 691.8, up from 687.5 and currently has the second highest rate in the UK.
Meanwhile, the latest study released by the Office for National Statistics has recorded a small increase in the number of deaths due to Covid.
Over the seven days up to 17 September 66 deaths were registered involving coronavirus, one higher than the previous week and accounting for 9.9% of all deaths in Wales.
A total of 668 deaths from all causes were registered in the week, one more death than the previous week and 15.8% (91 deaths) above the five-year average.
Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020 the ONS has recorded 55,698 deaths in Wales and of these, 8,180 deaths (14.7%) mentioned Covid, 5,542 deaths above the five-year average.
The daily figures released by Public Health Wales 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.
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.
Shadow Minister hits out over breast screening delays
The government has been criticised by the Welsh Conservatives following the publication of a report suggesting hundreds of women in Wales will have undiagnosed breast cancer after the pandemic caused 58,287 to miss screenings.
The analysis by the charity Breast Cancer Now says almost 620 women in Wales were living with undiagnosed breast cancer at the end of May and warns that even though screenings had restarted, they remain below pre-pandemic levels due to infection control measures.
Reacting to the report, Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Health, Russell George MS, said:
“As we start emerging from the pandemic, we are starting to see more and more serious consequences of the lockdowns and it’s clear cancer screenings are no exception.
“I am pleased to hear screenings have restarted, albeit at a reduced capacity due to infection control measures, but for some women across Wales sadly it will be too late.
“In other parts of Britain, we are seeing the rapid rollout of diagnostic centres to help with diagnosis and tackle life-threatening backlogs, but Labour ministers in Cardiff Bay are asleep at the wheel.
“Protecting people in Wales from devastating diseases like cancer should be a top priority for the Labour Government, but instead they are focused on picking nonsensical constitutional battles with Westminster.”
The charity’s analysis is based on NHS referral, treatment and screening data and estimated that as of May this year 10,162 people in England, 1,067 in Scotland, 620 in Wales and 30 in Northern Ireland could be living with undiagnosed breast cancer.
Police accused of helping illegal evictions
A leading homelessness charity says police forces across Wales have been “assisting illegal evictions” during the pandemic.
Shelter Cymru told a Senedd committee it had seen it happen in all four police force areas and said it was “vital that police services are not contributing to increased debt and/or homelessness in Wales by helping to facilitate illegal evictions of people from their homes”.
At the start of the pandemic in March last years, the government introduced a ban on evictions which came to an end in June and was replaced by a six-month notice period for tenants but the charity’s Rob Simkins said it had dealt with a significant amount of illegal eviction notices during the pandemic and said some renters had been “illegally evicted” and “actively hounded out of their homes” by landlords during the pandemic.
“We saw quite a lot of attempts to serve section 21 notices or no-fault evictions during the pandemic, especially when there was a moratorium on evictions,” he added.
The government introduced a tenancy hardship grant earlier in the year to help those in rent arrears between March and June and said tenancy evictions or mortgage repossessions could only take place with a court order.
“We’re continuing to protect tenants by extending the eviction period,” a spokesman told BBC Wales.
“This ensures that until 31 December 2021, tenancies in both the private and social rented sectors are subject to a six-month notice period in most cases.”
New national basketball league launches
Basketball Wales have announced the announced the creation of Wales’ first ever national league competition
Launching on 10 October, eight men’s teams have been confirmed for the inaugural season, with plans to add a women’s and junior leagues in the future.
All games in the new competition will be played on a Sunday and the league’s rules stipulate that teams can only have a maximum of 5 players registered to play in the England National Basketball League.
Clubs who compete in the league must also continue to play in the South Wales (SWBA) or North Wales (NWBA) league.
“This is a huge step forward for the game in Wales, bringing some of our best coaches, teams and players together in one league,” Basketball Wales Chairman Gavin Williams said.
“Our hope is that this will generate more interest in the game and inspire people across the country to fall in the love with the sport of basketball, to take up the sport or to start playing again!
“The first season is shaping up to be very exciting, with representatives from across the country playing for the pride of their communities in Ynys Mon, Mold, Aberystwyth, the Rhondda, Cardiff, Bridgend and Cheshire.
“Best of luck to all of the teams competing, and I know I can speak for the whole of the basketball community in Wales when I say we can’t wait for the action to get started.”
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
People should be encouraged to form local defence committees to help respond to flooding, a senior council officer has said.
Ainsley Williams, Carmarthenshire’s head of waste and environmental services, said getting communities to engage with the authorities has been tricky in the past.
But, citing what appears to be an increase in storm activity, Mr Williams, said: “Now it’s more prevalent maybe it’s appropriate that we try to engage more.”
He said Natural Resources Wales (NRW) had documents which enabled local groups to set up defence committees.
“It would be a great help for members (councillors) to encourage people to do this because that is the difficulty we have had in the past,” said Mr Williams.
He was addressing the council’s environmental and public protection scrutiny committee on the subject of emergency flood response.
A report before the committee set out which organisation was responsible for what, and encouraged businesses and householders to sign up to NRW flood warnings.
It said the council’s response in a storm event had to prioritise life, risk of injury, and risk to strategic assets and council-owned assets.
The report listed 14 storms which had hit the region since the devastating Storm Callum in October 2018.
Flash flooding affected south and south-west Wales overnight on Monday October 4, with crews called out to Kidwelly among other places.
Cllr Hazel Evans, cabinet member for environment, told the committee that the council had to prioritise its resources, however much it wanted to help.
Its primary focus, she said, was roads and coastal areas.
“Unfortunately I think these storms will be with us for the the foreseeable future,” said Cllr Evans.
Mr Williams, in response to a question from Cllr Alan Speake, said NRW was in general terms the responsible authority for main river flooding.
Mr Williams also said the council was trying to improve the situation at flood-prone Pensarn, Carmarthen, by applying for Welsh Government grants and undertaking feasibility studies.
Cllr Deryk Cundy said the latest flood maps for Wales, which were published in September, indicated that “quite a lot more land” in his Llanelli ward of Bynea was going to be lost.
The new maps, published by NRW and the Welsh Government, identify four flood zone types and will be used by planning officials and developers to direct development away from areas at risk of flooding and coastal erosion.
Climate change is causing sea levels to rise and is linked to extreme weather events such as intense rainfall. Cllr Aled Vaughan Owen said the implications of this were apparent in the number of storms listed in the report.
He suggested that the committee write to the Welsh delegation heading to the forthcoming United Nations climate change conference in Glasgow – a recommendation which was endorsed by colleagues.
Separately, in March this year, NRW confirmed it would repair joints in the Llangunnor flood defence wall, Carmarthen, which was breached during Storm Callum. The work was due to be finished by late summer.