News in brief: Covid cases remain low in Wales as infections rise across the UK
Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics confirm Covid infections remain low in Wales but reveal worrying signs of an upturn in cases across the other UK nations.
The report also tracks an increase in cases that are not compatible with the UK variant in England and Scotland and are likely to be due to the variant B.1.617.2, first identified in India.
Figures released by the UK government yesterday confirmed a further 30 people have tested positive for the Indian “variant of concern” in Wales over the last seven days, and there are currently 6,180 cases of the variant in England, a jump of 90% since last Thursday.
The English Health Secretary Matt Hancock also warned the Indian variant was now dominant across the UK and could account for up to 75% of new cases.
The latest ONS figures for the two weeks week ending 22 May, estimates 800 people in Wales had Covid-19, 0.03% of the population, equating to around 1 in 3,850 people.
In last week’s study it was estimated that 700 people had the virus, equating to around 1 in 4,340 people but the ONS warns 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.”
Meanwhile, Scotland and Northern Ireland have both seen significant increases in cases since last week’s analysis.
Scotland now has the highest proportion of new infections in the UK, with .16% of the population (8,300 people) infected, 1 in 630 of the population and an increase of more than 200% since last week.
In response to the upturn, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed Glasgow will remain in Scotland’s second toughest lockdown regime for at least another week after case rates had risen from 112 per 100,000 people to 146 per 100,000, with a test positivity rate of around 4%.
In Northern Ireland the report warns of “early signs of a possible increase in the percentage of people testing positive” as an estimated 2,200 people had Covid, up from 1,200 in the previous study, 1 in 820 of the population.
Cases in England are also slowly edging up again after recent falls but do not yet reflect the full impact of the new variant of concern.
A total of 48,500 people within the community population in England were estimated to be infected equating to around 1 in 1,120 people, 0.09% of the population.
Meanwhile, today’ figures from Public Health Wales confirmed no further deaths due to the virus and 32 new cases.
Seven local authorities recorded no new infections, while the four in Newport was the highest in Wales since yesterday’s update.
Bridgend has recorded 40 new cases in the last week and has the highest case rate at 27.2 per 100,000 people, up from 24.5 yesterday. The positive test proportion has also increased from 2.5% per 100,000 tests to 2.7% – also the highest in the country.
The national case rate is 8.8. down 0.1 since yesterday and the test rate is unchanged at 1%.
Tories call for action on GP waiting times
Welsh Conservative health spokesperson, Russell George MS is calling for urgent action from the government to reduce waiting times for people to see their GP.
According to the British Medical Association Wales, in the past eight weeks GPs have faced appointment rates 18% above pre-Covid levels, while measures put in place to keep medical staff and patients safe mean appointments can take twice as long as they did.
Latest figures from the Welsh government also showed a record 568,367 people were on NHS waiting lists in March an increase of 24.4% in the last 12 months due to the pandemic.
“Patients across Wales are struggling to obtain face-to-face appointments with their GP as waiting lists spiral out of control and mental health concerns escalate,” Mr George said.
“A record 1-in-5 people are now stuck on a waiting list experiencing unnecessary pain and anguish whilst they wait for routine surgery and potential cancer treatments.
“We need to see far more urgency from Welsh Labour to support frontline staff and implement detailed recovery plans to tackle this troubling backlog.
“Ministers should expand the use of rapid diagnostic centres and explore the introduction of specialist hubs to tackle routine surgery as soon as possible.”
Dr Phil White, chair of the BMA’s Welsh general practitioners committee, told BBC News that the number of face-to-face consultations was increasing but admitted: “General practice is under considerable pressure, many consultations are around waiting lists, and the numbers of mental health consultations has risen dramatically.”
Senedd tribute to Euro-bound national team
The Senedd will be illuminated in red tonight to support the national football team ahead of the delayed UEFA Euro 2020 tournament being staged next month.
The display follows the announcement of a partnership between the Football Association of Wales and Cadw, the government body responsible for historic sites in Wales, earlier this week.
In a statement announcing the partnership, the FAW said it sees “Welsh history, culture and language as a key part of its identity.” And said the aim of the partnership “is to raise awareness of Wales’ history whilst encouraging fans to visit Cadw sites as part of an active lifestyle”.
The partnership will see the FAW have a visible presence at Cadw sites across Wales this summer and will also play a key role in the squad announcement for the tournament on Sunday evening.
The FAW confirmed yesterday that 6,500 spectators will be allowed into the Cardiff City Stadium for the final Euro 2020 warm-up game against Albania next Saturday.
The capacity for the match, one of the Welsh Government’s test events for the for the safe return of fans, was originally set at 4,000.
The game will be the first at home in front of supporters since Wales beat Hungary in November 2019 to qualify for the European Championship finals.
They kick off the campaign on 12 June with a game against Switzerland being played at the Baku Stadium in Azerbaijan.
Owners of controversial quarry seek six-year extension to operating period
Anthony Lewis, local democracy reporter
The operators of a quarry near Pontypridd want to extend the time they can use it despite previous plans to expand the site being rejected.
Hanson UK has applied for permission from Rhondda Cynon Taf Council to extend their operations by six years until the end of 2028 to allow the remaining reserves of stone to be extracted.
Current conditions require work on the site to stop by the end of 2022 and Hanson is looking to change the date but none of the other conditions which regulate hours of working, noise and air quality which would remain in place.
The application also proposes changes to the time limits associated with restoration, with a request to delay the submission of a restoration scheme until no later than December 31, 2028 and the implementation of the scheme within two years of the date of its approval or by December 31, 2030, whichever is the sooner.
Plans to expand the quarry on Berw Road were met with wide-scale public opposition and were turned down by the council’s planning committee last year.
This would have involved a western extension to existing quarry and included the phased extraction of an additional 10 million tonnes of pennant sandstone, the construction of screens, an extension of quarrying until 2050 and an overall restoration scheme.
But planners opted to refuse it despite planning officers recommending approval because of the effect on air quality and therefore people’s health.
They also mentioned that the proposals don’t provide a buffer zone and will adversely affect residents and local school children and staff adding that there will be possible damage to roads caused by the movement of heavy lorries.
But Councillor Heledd Fychan who represents Pontypridd Town on RCT Council and is member of the Senedd for South Wales Central said: “Extending the life of the quarry is not of public benefit, and I will be urging the planning committee to reject this application as it did the application to expand the site.
“The detrimental impact of the quarry on air quality, public health and infrastructure including traffic is unacceptable.
“If we are serious about tackling the climate emergency and delivering on the future generations act, then we need to take action now. Rejecting this application is the responsible thing to do for the local community.”
A spokesperson for Hanson said: “A planning application was submitted to Rhondda Cynon Taff County Borough Council (RCT) on May 17, 2021, which seeks permission to continue the operation of Craig yr Hesg Quarry without complying with the current planning conditions for the site which require the winning and working of minerals or depositing of mineral waste to cease by December 31, 2022.
“The application seeks to extend the time limit for such quarrying operations by six years to December 31, 2028 to allow the remaining reserves of stone to be extracted .
“The application also seeks to make consequential changes to the time limits associated with restoration, with a request to delay the submission of a restoration scheme until no later than December 31, 2028 and the implementation of the scheme within two years of the date of its approval or by December 31, 2030, whichever is the sooner.
“It is not proposed to seek to amend any of the other existing planning conditions, and the existing planning conditions which regulate hours of working, noise, blasting, dust and air quality, and surface water and groundwater protection would remain in place to regulate operations at the site for the additional time-scale requested, but would be updated where appropriate.
“An environmental impact assessment (EIA) has been undertaken in support of the application, and the results of the EIA are set out in an Environmental Statement (ES) which may be viewed on RCT’s planning register on the RCT web site following registration of the application.
“Copies of the full ES as well as a Non-Technical Summary (NTS) may also be purchased from the company’s agents, SLR Consulting Ltd. (Details available within NTS on the RCT planning register).”