News in brief: Delta variant cases climb as Covid deaths drop to levels last seen in September
Health officials have recorded another big jump in the number of people infected with the Delta Covid variant in Wales.
A further 81 cases have been confirmed since last Thursday by Public Health Wales, taking the total number of cases in the country to 178, a jump of 83.5% in five days.
Last Friday First Minister Mark Drakeford said over three hundred people were quarantining because of the variant and said an increase in cases was “inevitable”.
The variant is more transmissible than previous mutations in the UK and scientists have warned that it is also more resistant to vaccines, particularly in people that have received only their first jab.
Cases of the Delta variant are doubling every eight days in England and earlier today the UK government extended surge testing in Greater Manchester and Lancashire in response to the increase in infections.
The UK government only releases official figures tracking the variant once a week and the number of cases recorded last Thursday was 3,245.
Meanwhile, Covid deaths in Wales are at their lowest level since September last year, according to the latest figures released by the Office for National Statistics.
Three deaths involving Covid-19 were recorded over the week ending 28 May, accounting for 0.5% of deaths from all causes in Wales over the seven days included in the study.
All three of the deaths reported were in hospital and no deaths were recorded in care homes for the second week running.
The total number of deaths registered in Wales was 610, five more than the previous week and four fewer (0.7%) than the five-year average.
Since the start of the pandemic in March last year, the ONS has recorded 46,041 deaths in Wales and of these, 7,890 deaths (17.1%) mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate – 5,495 deaths above the five-year average.
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.
The daily figures released by Public Health Wales only 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.
There have been no new deaths reported by PHW for the last 13 days, meaning the total has remained at 5,570 since 25 May.
Today’s update also confirms just 22 people have tested positive for the virus in Wales over the last 24 hours and 11 off 22 local authorities reported no new cases.
Conwy has the highest weekly case rate in Wales at 19.6 per 100,000 people for the seven days ending 6 June, while the nation case rate is 9.0 over the same period.
Welsh residents warned of NHS England ‘data grab’
Health Minister Eluned Morgan has warned that medical records of some Welsh residents could be included in controversial plans to change how NHS data is shared in England.
Although the move, described as a “data grab” by critics, only applies to information held by NHS England, the patient records of Welsh residents who have been registered with GPs in England in the last 10 years, will be included in the scheme, unless they choose to opt out.
“NHS Digital does not have any authority or responsibility in Wales,” the minister said.
“However, Welsh residents who are or have previously been registered with GPs in England will need to opt out by 23 June if they do not want their data to be included.
“The Welsh Government and NHS Wales is committed to enhancing how we use health and care data, for example, to enable earlier identification of health problems for individuals, support better planning and delivery of health and care services, and provide a platform for health research,” the minister said in a written statement.
“Access to large scale data is essential if we are to make use of artificial intelligence and other new digital analytics technologies.
“Confidentiality of patient records and overall security of personal data will continue to be our priority.”
Under the new proposals for England, data from GP surgeries, dating back over the last 10 years would anonymised and stored in a central database, with new information added in real time by doctors.
NHS England says data will be used for planning and research purposes, but some private sector organisations will also be able to access it.
Last week The Royal College of General Practitioners warned the plans risked affecting the doctor-patient relationship and the Labour Party has called for the proposals to be paused.
Tories call for further easing of Covid measures despite variant concerns
The Welsh Conservatives have called for the further easing of Covid restrictions despite concerns at the potential impact of the Delta Covid variant.
The variant is now the dominant mutation in the UK and is believed to be up to 50% more transmissible than the Alpha (Kent) variant that caused the second wave of the pandemic last autumn.
Speaking at yesterday’s press briefing, Mark Drakeford said a third wave is “inevitable” later on in the year but it may be “flatter” if the vaccine is as effective against the Delta virus as it is against the Kent variant.
Andrew RT Davies, leader of the Tory group in the Senedd said: “Welsh Conservatives have been clear that we will support ministers in their endeavours to allow the economy and society to re-open as safely and as quickly as possible, and that remains the case.
“We must remain vigilant as the clusters of the Indian variant across Wales remain a concern, but if the data particularly in relation to hospitalisation rates indicate we can move forward, then we should continue to ease restrictions in a safe and sensible manner.”
According to the latest figures, there have been just 59 Covid patients in hospitals in Wales over the last seven days and Public Health Wales has reported no further deaths due to the virus for the past 12 days.
Local authority spends £388,000 on furlough top-ups for non-council staff
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
Swansea Council spent nearly £388,000 last year topping up wages of staff who don’t work directly for it.
A Freedom of Information request has revealed it spent £340,290 on furlough top-up costs for leisure services operator Freedom Leisure in 2020-21, and £47,574 on top-ups for furloughed Wales National Pool Swansea Ltd staff.
Freedom Leisure is a not-for-profit trust which runs seven leisure centres and sports centres on behalf of the council. Wales National Pool Swansea Ltd, which runs the 50-metre pool in Sketty, is also not-for-profit and is managed by a board including three council and three Swansea University representatives.
Leisure venues everywhere have been hammered during the Covid pandemic, putting jobs at risk and slashing income for councils and organisations which run them on their behalf.
Swansea Council has not been able to reclaim its top-up furlough expenditure to date, but it has made no secret of its support for the leisure centre and swimming pool providers.
In comments accompanying its Freedom of Information response to the Local Democracy Reporter Service, the council said: “The funding to support staff at Freedom Leisure and Wales National Pool Swansea through the pandemic was agreed by cabinet last year and forms part of a package of measures which ensured that these highly-valued services were able to re-open safely as we emerge from the pandemic.”
The leisure centres and 50-metre pool were part of Swansea’s offer as a visitor destination, it said, and encouraged a healthy city.
The response added: “It’s crucial to the well-being of our residents that these facilities – and our partners who run them on our behalf – are enabled to look forward with confidence and that we can support them in such challenging times.”
Freedom Leisure was awarded the leisure and sports centre contract in 2018. Visitor numbers to the seven venues were just under two million between April 2019 and March 2020.
Visitor numbers to the Wales National Pool Swansea dropped by 42% to just under 139,000 in 2019-20, but that was because the year audited was from August to July, thereby including four full months of Covid lockdowns and restrictions.
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