News in brief: Covid cases surge to levels last seen in mid-January
Today’s figures from Public Health Wales have confirmed no further deaths due to Covid in the last 24 hours and 1,393 new cases of the virus, raising the weekly national case rate to over 300 for the first time since January.
More that 9,500 people have tested positive for Covid in the seven days up to 19 August, increasing the rate to 306.1 per 100,000 people, the highest since it hit 373 over the week ending 10 January during the peak of the second wave of the pandemic.
Denbighshire continues to have the highest case rate in Wales at 430.5, up from 414.8 yesterday, and the rates in Neath Port Talbot (409.6) and Swansea (405.7) have also passed 400 after recording 587 and 1,002 new cases respectively in the seven days up to 19 August.
Meanwhile, there has been a small drop in the number of deaths involving Covid-19, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics.
The study, which covers the week ending 13 August, recorded 19 deaths where Covid was mentioned on the death certificate, a decrease from 22 the previous week, accounting for 2.9% of all deaths registered that week.
The number of deaths from all causes increased from 634 to 645 from the week ending 6 August, which was 13.0% above the five-year average (74 more deaths).
Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020 there have been 52,607 deaths recorded by the ONS. Of these 7,984 deaths (15.2%) mentioned Covid, 5,256 deaths above the five-year average.
According to Public Health Wales, 5,658 people have died due to Covid since March last year.
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.
Tories welcome new vaccine purchase
The Welsh Conservatives has welcomed news that the UK Government has signed a deal with Pfizer-BioNTech for 35 million more doses of its coronavirus vaccine.
The government said the vaccine was secured in preparation for the rollout of booster jabs from next month.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has yet to publish its advice on the booster programme but is expected to recommend that jabs will initially only be offered to the most vulnerable this year.
“After months of restrictions and lockdowns, people across Wales are enjoying the restoration of their freedoms, which was made possible due to the UK Government’s decision to procure early, and in bulk, away from the constraints of the EU scheme,” Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Health, Russell George MS, said.
“This latest announcement of an extra 35 million doses is welcome news and highlights the substantial work being undertaken by Sajid Javid, the Prime Minister and the Conservative Government to future-proof our vaccine programme.
“As we move forward there is a chance that new variants will appear and people will be receiving booster shots, so having sufficient supplies of the vaccine is vital, and this latest deal ensures we have a plan in place to keep Wales and the rest of the UK safe for years to come.”
The JVCI is awaiting the result of further research before recommending booster jabs for all adults while some scientists claim boosters are unnecessary and will create shortages of global vaccine supplies.
The Pfizer vaccine was the first to me made available when the mass vaccination programme was rolled out last December and since then the UK has ordered 135 million doses, more than any other country in the world.
Swansea considers future City of Culture bid
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
Swansea might consider a bid to become City of Culture in the future after declining to throw its hat in the ring for 2025, council leader Rob Stewart said.
The council applied for the inaugural City of Culture, in 2013, and then again for the 2017 and 2021 status but lost out to Derry, Hull and Coventry respectively.
Newport, Powys, Conwy County, and the City of Bangor and Northwest Wales are among the 20 UK contenders vying for a year in the cultural spotlight in 2025.
Asked by the Local Democracy Reporter Service what Swansea Council’s reasons were for not applying this time round, Cllr Stewart said: “Our current efforts are firmly focused on helping Swansea and its cultural community lead Wales out of the pandemic.
“That work has continued throughout the pandemic and will continue in the months and years to come.”
Cllr Stewart said when Swansea last made a City of Culture bid it pledged that culture would play “a transformational role here, unifying people and place, mobilised by stronger, richer and deeper participation”.
He said the council had delivered on what it promised, despite not being winners.
The Swansea 2021 bid team included the city’s two universities, creative businesses, arts leaders and the Welsh Government, among others. Actors Michael Sheen and Rhys Ifans were among those who backed it.
Cllr Stewart insisted that Swansea – the birthplace of poet Dylan Thomas – was Wales’s city of culture.
The Glynn Vivian Art Gallery has been refurbished, the Albert Hall is to be renovated and reopened as a live music venue, and the new indoor arena off Oystermouth Road is expected to open, in phases, from the end of 2021.
Cllr Stewart said the city’s Grand Theatre was “building a new more inclusive future for new and existing audiences”. In 2019 the council pulled a booking by Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown at the venue, saying the controversial entertainer “doesn’t reflect its values”.
Cllr Stewart said the city would be busy for the Swansea Fringe festival in October, and that another historic building – the Palace Theatre – is to be given a new lease of life as a creative business hub.
The Swansea Labour leader added: “We’re introducing new art into busy public locations such as the (city centre) Copr Bay hoardings, major music events are planned for venues such as Singleton Park and the Liberty Stadium, and the hugely popular Wales Airshow will be back next summer.”
Cllr extended the council’s best wishes to the 2025 City of Culture contenders, and added: “We may consider a bid in future years.”
Feedback on Swansea’s failed 2021 attempt said that despite positive aspects, the bid was “not as strong at illustrating cultural leadership from the cultural institutions in the area, and whilst judges clearly understood the cultural infrastructure and leadership in the city, they needed to see how the authority would and could do its part”.
There were also some concerns about the focus on regeneration, with culture adding value but not driving the agenda.
Opposition leader Chris Holley led the council when it applied for the 2013 City of Culture, and recalled it being a rushed process.
The Swansea Liberal Democrat leader said he was disappointed when the 2017 and 2021 bids were unsuccessful.
Cllr Holley said he’d heard that Swansea’s key role in the city deal for the Swansea Bay City Region was a factor the 2021 result.
“I understand we (Swansea) didn’t get it because we had the city deal,” he said.
New Covid guidance issued to brass bands
Brass Bands Wales has issued new guidelines and advice to assist Welsh bands as they return to full rehearsals following the relaxation of Covid-19 rules and regulations earlier this month.
Following talks with the government, the body which supports and promotes brass bands in Wales, has warned its members that band organisers will continue to have a legal duty to undertake a Covid-19 specific risk assessment and take reasonable measures to minimise the risk of exposure to and spread of coronavirus.
Among the measures recommended are:
Encourage members to take a lateral flow test before each rehearsal.
Maintain good ventilation in your rehearsal or performance space.
Remind members to self-isolate if they have symptoms or have been contacted by NHS Test Trace Protect.
Avoid congestion in communal areas and, if possible, maintain a one-way system in and out of the rehearsal space? Allow a maximum number of people to gather in communal areas such as toilets and corridors.
Face coverings should be worn at all times except for when seated and playing.