News in brief: Covid cases fall for the sixth day in a row as expert predicts the end of the pandemic could be close
Wales’ Covid-19 case rate has fallen for the sixth day in a row for the first time since April, mirroring the drop in cases which have been recorded across the UK in the past week.
Earlier today, the national clinical director of the Scottish government, Prof Jason Leitch, described how the case rate there was “dramatically falling” while overall the number of new cases across the UK has declined by over 20% in the last seven days.
Reflecting on the fall in cases, Professor Neil Ferguson, the epidemiologist from Imperial College London who has played a key role in producing the modelling used to inform government policy on the handling of the pandemic, told the BBC’s Today programme that by the autumn “the bulk of the pandemic” could be behind us”
“We need to remain cautious, especially with the potential increase in contact rates again as the weather becomes less fine and schools return,” he added.
“We’re not completely out of the woods, but the equation has fundamentally changed. The effect of vaccines is hugely reducing the risk of hospitalisations and death. And I’m positive that by late September or October time we will be looking back at most of the pandemic.”
Today’s update from Public Health Wales confirmed no further deaths and 704 new cases of coronavirus in the last 24 hours, as the weekly case rate dropped from 169.6 per 100,000 people to 164.4.
Denbighshire continues to have the highest weekly rate in the country at 455.6 a fall of 6% since Sunday morning and the positivity rate is also down from 18.2% per 100,000 tests to 17.8%.
Meanwhile, the number of deaths due to Covid registered in Wales showed a small increase in the latest figures released by the Office for National Statistics.
In the seven days ending 16 July, four deaths involving Covid-19 were registered in Wales, an increase from three the previous week, accounting for 0.7% of all deaths.
The number of deaths registered from all causes decreased from 639 to 563, which was 15 fewer deaths (2.6%) than the five-year average.
Deaths were above the five-year average in England (472 more deaths) and Scotland (100 more deaths) and were also below the five-year average in Northern Ireland (33 fewer deaths).
Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, there have 50,049 deaths from all causes registered in Wales. Of these, 7,912 deaths (15.8%) mentioned Covid-19, 4,964 deaths above the five-year average.
According to the latest figures from Public Health Wales, 5,597 people have died due to Covid in the last 16 months.
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.
New app trialled to to help cardiac patients
Cardiac patients in the north of Wales are trialling innovative new technology that allows their health and recovery to be monitored via mobile phone.
Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board has teamed-up with healthtech company Huma to assess whether people with heart problems can be supported in their homes using an app that reports on their condition.
The pilot programme, funded by Welsh Government, means any changes in the patient’s health or response to medication could be identified more rapidly.
The system allows people to record their symptoms and vital signs, such as weight and blood pressure, which will be reviewed by the clinician and fed-back to the patient to record progress and highlight any concerns.
The app also allows patients to have consultations by video, which can help avoid unnecessary visits to clinics or hospitals.
Viki Jenkins, Heart Failure Advanced Nurse Practitioner for BCUHB, said “We want to build on the advances made in digital technology since the beginning of the pandemic, and this is an extension of that, but we need to understand how easy or difficult it is for people to use the application, which is what this pilot is all about.
“This is a great opportunity to explore what health services are going to look like in the future – COVID-19 has shown us we have to embrace innovation like this.”
As part of the trial, patients will receive equipment to take readings, including a blood pressure cuff, weighing scales and a pulse oximeter.
Cardiology specialists will be able to remotely monitor each patient’s symptoms, progress and conduct video consultations to address any concerns. If needed, hospital visits can be arranged for further treatment and consultation.
Helen Northmore, Head of Digital and AI (Artificial Intelligence) at Life Sciences Hub Wales, said the Huma app is an example of how technology will play an even bigger role in patient care going forward.
“The traditional pathway is for cardiac patients to regularly attend a hospital appointment and have these readings taken,” she said.
“This application will free up clinicians’ time so they can be there for patients who need them more urgently, and it also saves the patient from having to travel and wait at the hospital to be seen.”
The pilot is one of five projects to be awarded funding as part of the government’s £150,000 Digital Solutions Fund, looking at new and revolutionary ways to use technology in the fight against Coronavirus and beyond.
Plans for new harbourside development advance
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
Plans for a commercial harbourside development in Carmarthenshire have taken a step forward.
Council leaders have agreed to sell a vacant site in Burry Port while retaining some control over the quality and delivery of what is built there.
The 2.8-acre plot of land is flanked to the east by the former Grillo works site and to the south by the marina.
The council already has outline planning consent to build shops, a hotel, flats and a pub or restaurant there as part of a wider regeneration plan for Burry Port.
Council leader Emlyn Dole told an executive board meeting that the authority could choose not to sell the site, but he said due to the timescales set out in the outline approval, the advice was to dispose of it.
Cllr Dole added: “We could sell it – once sold the council would have no control other than by the planning process.”
The executive board has therefore opted to dispose of it and then select a bidder via an “open procurement procedure”, giving it and the Welsh Government some control.
The wider masterplan for Burry Port has identified housing opportunities, a new enterprise village and harbour upgrades, among other things.
Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths, who has the culture, sport and tourism portfolio, said the 2.8-acre site was part of this larger jigsaw.
“I’m disappointed sometimes that people are so critical of what we are trying to do round the harbour there,” he said.
The council, he said, was spending £2 million upgrading the grade two-listed harbour walls and giving the lighthouse a lick of paint.
A company called The Marine Group has improved mooring facilities in conjunction with the council and is upgrading the former RNLI harbour office, which will include a coffee shop.
A local business, meanwhile, has agreed a lease for a cafe and public toilets on east side of harbour.
Cllr Hughes Griffiths said the development of the 2.8-acre plot would be boost for the town and the wider area.
He added: “Sometimes people need to be more patient. We can’t do it all at once.”
The executive board approved the open procurement disposal, which will give the council’s head of regeneration Jason Jones and executive board member for resources, Cllr David Jenkins, authority to negotiate appropriate terms for the sale of the land.