News in brief: Covid case rates drop to 17-week low in Wales
The number of new cases of Covid-19 in Wales is continuing to fall, according to the latest figures from Public Health Wales.
The rolling seven-day case rate up to 27 January is 141.2 per 100,000 people, the lowest level recorded since 4 October, 17 weeks ago.
In the run-up to Christmas the rate soared to 603.6 per 100,000 in the week ending 20 December, as the latest lockdown was announced but has declined consistently since then.
Dr Giri Shankar, Incident Director for the Coronavirus outbreak response at Public Health Wales, welcomed the decline in cases but warned people to remain vigilant.
“Although the data currently shows that on an all-Wales level the numbers of cases are reducing and that the incidence is now below 150 cases per 100,000 population, the rates in some areas – particularly in North Wales – are still at more than double that,” he said.
“The pressure on our hospitals is still severe and shows no signs of easing yet, so it is extremely important that everyone sticks to the rules and stays at home as much as possible.
“This is a crucial time. We must ensure that we stick to the rules over the next few weeks so that the number of cases continues to reduce and that hospitals can start to recover, while the vaccination programme is underway to protect the most vulnerable in our communities.
PHW also reported a further 21 deaths due to the virus in today’s report and 630 new positive Covid tests.
The total number of deaths reported since the start of the pandemic is now 4,775.
Eleven of the newly reported deaths were in the Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board area, which has reported 1,374 fatalities since the start of the pandemic, just under 29% of the death toll for the whole of Wales.
There were also four deaths in the Cardiff and Vale health board area, three in Hywel Dda, two in the Betsi Cadwaladr and one in the Swansea Bay health board area.
The case rate in Wrexham remains the highest in Wales at 385.4 per 100,000, after 63 new cases were recorded in the last 24 hours.
Cardiff reported 56 and was next highest, followed by Flintshire with 59.
Wrexham also has the highest positive test rate at 23.2% per 100,000 tests, almost double the total across the whole of Wales of 11.7%.
Shielding advice extended for a further seven weeks
The Welsh Government has extended advice to people who are clinically extremely vulnerable to Covid-19 to avoid traveling to work or school up to 31 March.
The group, described as ‘shielding’ during the first wave of the pandemic, were previously advised by the government to stay at home where possible from 22 December until 7 February.
The decision to extend the advice follows a review by Wales’ Chief Medical Officer, Dr Frank Atherton.
The government also confirmed that by mid-February those on the shielding patient list will be contacted and will receive their first Covid-19 vaccination but says it is important people wait to be contacted and also that, when they are invited, they attend and receive their vaccination.
“At present, the advice not to attend work and school outside the home will continue to apply even after both doses of the vaccine have been received,” Health Minister Vaughan Gething said.
“This is because the incidence of coronavirus in our communities remains high and the proportion of people who have been vaccinated is relatively low.
“This advice is consistent across the four UK nations and will be kept under review by the four Chief Medical Officers.
“The consideration of advice to the clinically extremely vulnerable is separate to the coronavirus regulations and, whilst we are still in a challenging period in relation to levels of the virus in our communities, this extended date should not be taken as an indicator of the outcome of alert level reviews during this period.”
Extra support pledged for youth mental health services
Welsh Government is to make an additional £9.4 million available to support mental health services for children and young people.
The additional funding, being announced at the start of Children’s Mental Health Week, recognises the effect being away from school and regular support networks has had on young people during the pandemic.
With research showing mental health issues predominantly start when people are children or young people, £4m will be made available to improve access to emotional and mental health well-being support in schools as part of the Whole Systems Approach.
A further £5.4m funding will go towards CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) to support young people who need more intensive support, both in the community and in specialist mental health in-patient services.
More counselling and emotional support will also be made available for school children.
Education Minister Kirsty Williams said: “Ensuring our children have access to effective mental health support is essential if they are to grow up to be healthy and confident individuals.
“As part of our whole school approach, we are working together both inside the school and those outside to make sure every child and young person knows where to go for emotional help and feels well supported.”
Propel leader calls for pay freeze for MSs
Propel leader Neil McEvoy has submitted a motion to the Senedd calling for a freeze of elected members’ pay for the next two financial years.
There is currently a consultation being undertaken by the Senedd’s Remunerations Board, with a view to increasing the pay for Members of the Senedd by 2.4%, rather than the originally planned 4.4%, having frozen pay for one year.
In response to the consultation Mr McEvoy MS said that as there was little prospect of a pay rise for members of the public MSs should “lead by example in these extraordinary times.”
“It would absolutely be the wrong message for Members of the Senedd to give themselves a pay rise at this time. For most of the last year people have had to take a pay cut, either by being furloughed or losing their job,” he said.
“After the election, all those elected will have a regular salary every month. So many now don’t enjoy that security. We have to lead by example and Propel is doing this.”