News in brief: Covid testing companies culled for ‘exploitative practices’ and inadequate service
The UK Government is removing over 50 private companies offering PCR Covid tests from the UK’s test booking portal and a further 82 companies will be warned they face the axe for advertising misleading prices, following a review by the Competitions and Market Authority.
Last month visitors to Wales from overseas were told they must book their mandatory PCR Covid tests via the NHS due to Welsh Government concerns about the quality of services offered by some companies listed on the portal.
Following pressure from MPs and consumer organisations the UK health secretary Sajid Javid asked the competition watchdog to investigate the market for PCR tests due to concerns about “exploitative practices” and inadequate service.
“It is absolutely unacceptable for any private testing company to be taking advantage of holidaymakers and today’s action clamps down on this cowboy behaviour,” Mr Javid said.
Although the listed sites are not endorsed or recommend by the UK government, these providers often offer PCR testing at cheaper prices than the NHS and Eluned Morgan, Minister for Health and Social Services, said users reported issues, “including booked tests not being delivered and people not being notified of results.”
In the statement issued by the Welsh Government highlighting problems with private tests, Eluned Morgan said: “We are working with the UK Government to seek assurance that only those companies who reach specified key performance indicators will be allowed to provide tests,” she added.
“When we are assured the right systems are in place to protect the Welsh public, we will review the position so that people could access tests from private companies.”
Under current Covid restrictions, travellers must book and pay for mandatory PCR tests to be taken following their arrival to Wales.
All travellers returning from green- and amber-list countries must take a test before they depart for the UK, and a further PCR test on their second day after arriving home.
Those who have not been fully vaccinated must also self-isolate and take a test on day eight if they visited an amber-list country.
The price for NHS tests is the same across the UK and is set by the UK Government. NHS tests are processed through the UK Lighthouse Laboratory network, which means positive cases can be linked directly to the Welsh Test, Trace, Protect system.
Two new deaths reported as Covid surge continues
Two people have died due to Covid-19 and 3,247 new cases of the virus have been recorded in the 48 hours up to 9am on Sunday morning, according to the latest figures released by Public Health Wales.
The newly reported deaths were in the Aneurin Bevan and Swansea Bay health board areas and take the total number of deaths in Wales since the start of the pandemic to 5,658.
Swansea (365) recorded the highest number of new cases in the country over the first half of the weekend, followed by Rhondda Cynon Taf (298) and Cardiff (276).
In the week up to 18 August 9,098 people have tested positive for the virus, lifting the weekly case rate by 43 points to 288.6 per 100,000 people since Sunday’s report. The test positivity rate has also risen, from 15.1% per 100,000 tests to 16.5%.
Almost half of the 22 local authorities in Wales now have weekly case rates above 300, with Denbighshire recording the highest rate at 414.9 up from 402.3 yesterday.
Liberty Steel owner in talks to save UK plants
Sanjeev Gupta, the owner of Liberty Steel, the UK’s third largest steel manufacturer, has resumed talks with the San Francisco-based finance company White Oak Global Advisers about refinancing his European operations.
In June talks with White Oak over a £200-million loan were put on hold after the Serious Fraud Office opened an investigation into suspected fraud, fraudulent trading and money laundering at Liberty Steel’s parent company GFG.
Companies under the GFG umbrella have been under threat since Greensill Captal, the main source of finance for the conglomerate which owns Liberty, collapsed into administration three months ago.
According to the Financial Times, a new financing package for the UK plants could see a combination of fresh funding from White Oak as well as the GFG group.
In May GFG revealed it was selling seven UK plants employing 1,500 people, in an effort to keep creditors at bay.
GFG Alliance employs 35,000 people around the world and just over 3,000 of those work for Liberty Steel, including over 200 at plants in Newport and Tredegar.
In an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in April, Mr Gupta said he was “committed” to his UK plants and said: “None of my steel plants under my watch will be shut down for sure.”
Many of Liberty Steel’s assets were part of Tata Steel’s UK business until they were purchased by GFG for £100m in 2017.
Shadow Minister urges caution over mass tree planting programme
The Welsh Government is being urged to take action to ensure that it’s proposed mass tree planting programme doesn’t threaten wildlife and farms.
The government plans to plant 86 million more trees by the end of the decade but since 2014 only around 1,690 hectares of new forest have been planted.
“Welsh Government needs to start hitting tree planting targets, but through cooperation with Natural Resources Wales must ensure that we do not see a blanket tree planting approach,” Janet Finch-Saunders, Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Climate Change, said.
“Allowing large scale planting on diversity-rich land could have a detrimental impact on communities and our planet.
“Rather than seeing farmers worried that they could be pushed out of their land by the tree planting push, we need to see NRW taking steps to stop or at least request changes to plantations that commandeer whole farms.
“Woodland expansion must not threaten wildlife and farms. Equal importance must be given to other carbon-rich agricultural habitats such as hedgerows, heathlands, peatland, species-rich grassland, hay meadows, and multispecies leys”.