News in brief: Covid cases fall in Wales but show signs of going up in England
Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics mapping Covid infections across the UK show the number of cases is continuing to fall in Wales but the study warns that in England the percentage of people testing positive for the coronavirus shows early signs of a potential increase.
In Wales, the ONS estimate 700 people had Covid, 0.02% of the population, equating to around 1 in 4,340 people. Last week’s study estimated infection levels at 1 in 4,230.
The ONS notes that “because positivity rates are currently very low in Wales, it is difficult to identify trends as they are affected more easily by small changes in the number of people testing positive from week to week.”
With concern mounting over the increase of cases of the Indian variant, in England the number of infections has increased from 40,800 the previous week to 49,000, an estimated 1 in 1,110 people.
The number of confirmed cases in the UK of the Indian variant of concern has risen more than 160% in the past week, and Public Health England (PHE) is reporting there have now been 3,424 cases of the B.1.617.2 variant in the UK, up from 1,313 last Thursday.
There have been 28 confirmed cases of the variant in Wales, most linked to international travel, up from 11 the previous week.
The impact of these new infections on the overall figures is likely to be clearer after the publication of next week’s ONS report.
In Northern Ireland, 1,200 people had Covid-19, around 1 in 1,550 people and In Scotland, 2,700 are estimated to be infected, 1 in 1,960 people.
Meanwhile, Public Health Wales has confirmed three new deaths due to Covid and 28 new cases of the virus.
The newly recorded deaths were in the Betsi Cadwaladr, Cwm Taf Morgannwg and Hywel Dda health board areas.
Six local authorities reported no new cases. Swansea, with five, saw the highest number of new positive test for the virus in Wales over the last 24 hours.
Newport continues to have the highest weekly case rate at 29.1 per 100,000 people, down from 29.7 yesterday. The tests rate at 2.2% from 100,000 tests over the week is also the highest and is unchanged from yesterday.
The national case rate has increased slightly, from 9.4 to 9.5 and the test rate is unchanged at 1.0%.
Health Board confirms five cases of Indian Covid variant
Jez Hemming, local democracy reporter
Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board has revealed there are five incidences of the Indian Covid variant in North Wales- all linked to the same returning traveller.
The news was contained in a presentation given to Health Board members at their monthly meeting on Thursday.
The latest figures have confirmed 28 cases of the variant in Wales, most linked to international travel, up from 11 the previous week.
The board’s public health director Teresa Owen also said it was working with the National Arrival Team to locate people who had returned from abroad with coronavirus symptoms.
Of around 3,000 people self-isolating in Wales 583 are in the North.
She said: “We certainly get involved if there are any issues in tracing those arrivals and making sure they are isolating.
“We also work with enforcement and compliance colleagues in North Wales.
“I predict a surge in cases due to this as we go forward, from countries potentially in red and amber.
“Of course countries change (in classification) and we have to be alive to that.”
Ms Owen said surges from people arriving from abroad was “one to watch” and mentioned half-term as a potential cause of another increase in infections.
The board also received the latest number of people being treated for Covid-19 in the region’s hospitals.
Dr Chris Stockport, the board’s director of primary care and community services, said there were currently 44 people being treated for the infection.
However 25 of those were in the West of the area although there were no new infections.
Planned operations at Ysbyty Gwynedd, Bangor, had to be cancelled for two weeks as up to 49 people were affected by an outbreak of coronavirus which was discovered in February this year.
Swansea Bay University Health Board has also revealed a “small” number of cases of the variant had been confirmed in its area.
Dr Keith Reid, the director for public health at Swansea Bay health board, which covers Swansea, Neath and Port Talbot, warned that Covid “hasn’t gone away” despite the number of infections and hospital admissions remaining low.
“The risk of infection was still very real, particularly among those who haven’t yet received the protection of their first vaccine dose,” he added.
Welsh Conservatives welcome ‘bold’ railway plans
Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Transport, Russell George MS, has described the Westminster government’s creation of a new body to control the rail network in the UK as “pioneering” and “bold”.
A new body, Great British Railways, will integrate the railways, owning the infrastructure, collecting fare revenue, running and planning the network, and setting most fares and timetables.
Mr George said: “Britain is rightly proud of its railway history and today’s bold announcement will build on that famed legacy.
“The Great British Railways body marks a new era, where Wales and the UK will soon boast a revamped transport system fully fit for the future.
“Passengers will be empowered by higher-quality services, more rail routes becoming available, as well as simpler ways of paying for travel.
“This pioneering step shows the UK Conservative Government is building back better.”
The Welsh Government has previously called for the devolution of rail infrastructure to Wales, arguing that the UK Government has been guilty of “historic and continuing under-investment” in Wales’ rail tracks.
A recent report commissioned by the Welsh Government showed that Wales has 11% of the UK’s rail network but only receives 1% of the rail investment, while research by Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre concluded Welsh railways would receive £500m more a year were it to be devolved.
Great British Railways will take over responsibility for both tracks and trains in 2023, with UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps saying it will place the railways under a “single, accountable national leadership”.
Welsh Lib Dems call for extra support for NHS workers
Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats Jane Dodds MS has called on the Welsh Government to target spending on the NHS and social care system on cutting waiting times for treatment and investing in NHS staff welfare.
Health and Social Services Minister Eluned Morgan set-out plans yesterday for a £100m investment to kick-start the health and care system’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, with the money targeted on recruiting additional staff, new equipment and introducing new ways of working to help reduce waiting times.
During the first wave of the pandemic most non-urgent treatments were suspended and according to the latest figures a record 568,367 people are on NHS waiting lists, an increase of 24.4% in the last 12 months.
“The pandemic’s impact on NHS waiting times has been huge, with many examples or cancelled and delayed treatments, operations and consultations,” Ms Dodds said.
“It is absolutely right as we emerge from this pandemic that funding should be used to help those who’s care has been delayed.
“We know the immense pressure that staff were under before the pandemic hit and now is the time to invest in staff welfare and support,” she added.
“I want to see an investment to provide meaningful mental health and occupational health support to all staff in the NHS and an extension to the 24/7 NHS support line to all staff, not just those in clinical roles.
“I’m also calling on the Welsh Government to work with industry leaders to develop a culture throughout the NHS that is inclusive which encourages staff learning and progression. By protecting time for staff to keep learning we will not only keep staff within the NHS, but the staff will be happier and healthier too.”