News in brief: Drakeford urges full cooperation with track and trace to deal with Covid hotspots
People are being urged to cooperate fully with the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect system amid concern over a small number of Covid hotspots in Wales.
There has been a significant decline in cases over recent weeks and a report by the Office for National Statistics published yesterday, confirmed Wales currently has the lowest Covid infection rate of all the UK nations.
The ONS report estimated that 1 in 430 people had Covid in Wales last week, compared to 1 in 275 in Scotland, 1 in 315 in Northern Ireland and 1 in 340 in England.
The weekly case rate in Wales currently stands at 41.9per per 100,000 people, however rates in both Merthyr Tydfil (131) and Anglesey (114.4) considerably exceed that.
First Minister Mark Drakeford has warned the government will not rule out introducing local restrictions in an effort to control the outbreaks and said there had been “some evidence that in some places people are reluctant to cooperate”.
“There may be a number of reasons for that, I’m afraid it may be that they know that they’ve been doing things they shouldn’t do, and they’re not keen for that to come to the surface,” he added.
“Whatever the reason behind it is, it is not a sensible way of behaviour because it just means that the risk goes on for longer.”
“When the phone goes from the TTP (Test, Trace, Protect) system, please take it seriously.
“It’s there to protect you and not cooperating with it puts you and other people that matter to you at risk.”
Echoing Mr Drakeford’s comments, Dr Robin Howe, Incident Director for the Covid-19 outbreak response at Public Health Wales, said, “It is vitally important that we don’t squander the substantial gains that have been made.”
“If you are contacted by your local TTP team then it is important that you are truthful with them about where you have been and who you have met,” he added.
“They are not there to judge. They are there to help prevent ongoing transmission of the virus and to protect the community.
“If you are asked to self-isolate by your local TTP team then please ensure that you do so for the full ten days – this will help break any chains of transmission.”
A new study from the Senedd’s Research unit, published last month in collaboration with Swansea University, reports that over 90% of positive Covid cases and close contacts have been successfully traced by NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect, since the service was set up last June.
Meanwhile, Public Health Wales has confirmed six more people have died due to coronavirus and 208 people have tested positive for the virus since yesterday’s report.
Three of the newly recorded deaths were in the Cardiff and Vale heath board area. Aneurin Bevan, Hywel Dda and Swansea Bay health boards all recorded one further death.
Merthyr Tydfil still has the highest weekly case rate in Wales but there has been a fall for the second day in a row at 131 per 100,000 people, down from 159.1 on Wednesday. The rate in Anglesey has fallen from 127.1 to 114.2 since yesterday’s report.
The weekly case rate across Wales has gone down from 43.7 yesterday to 41.9.
Since the start of the Covid vaccination programme on 8 December 1,231,830 people have received a first dose of vaccine and 329,530 have had both jabs.
Green light for new £180 million cancer centre
The Welsh Government has given the go-ahead for the development of a new Velindre Cancer Centre in north Cardiff.
Velindre University NHS Trust is set to build the new £180 million hospital on land near its current site in Whitchurch, known locally as the Northern Meadows.
The new cancer centre forms part of a wider upgrade to services across south-east Wales, which also includes a new radiotherapy centre in Abergavenny.
The announcement comes despite local opposition to the hospital being built on the site.
Campaigners from Save the Northern Meadows had raised concerns about the environmental impacts of building a hospital on the meadows, land which is owned by Cardiff & Vale UHB but is used by members of the public for walking.
A letter signed by 163 senior clinicians was also sent to the government calling for the new hospital to be built at the Heath instead of in Whitchurch. The signatories said building the cancer hospital next to the University Hospital of Wales would be safer for patients.
Health Minister Vaughan Gething said the proposals for the new hospital “have been subject to a long and detailed scrutiny process by the Welsh Government.”
“Our current Velindre Cancer Centre has delivered exceptional service to people for many decades. It is known as a special place by those people who have needed its crucial support at one of the most difficult times in their lives.
“But like all buildings, there comes a time when we have to look to the future and ensure that people can continue to get the best possible care for the decades ahead,” he added.
“The new centre will sit at the heart of a programme of transformational change to cancer services in South East Wales. This includes ambitious plans for better access to services, improved capacity and updated equipment.
“It will also include closer working with other specialist services, the development of Velindre hubs and improvements to acute oncology services across the region.”
Velindre University NHS Trust Chief Executive Steve Ham described the decision as “an important moment for cancer services for the people of south east Wales.”
“It provides a once in a generation opportunity to transform the services we offer in partnership with our patients, UHB partners, academic partners and the third sector. We will continue to put patients’ needs and safety at the heart of everything we do as we progress our plans, building on our proud history.”
Cardiff Council has already granted planning permission for the new hospital which is expected to open in 2025.
Boost for schemes to get more people walking and cycling
Active travel schemes across Wales will receive a funding boost of more than £53 million this year as part of the government’s strategy to encourage healthy travel.
Overall, 44 larger schemes and packages of schemes in local authorities will be funded through the first allocation of the Active Travel Fund this year, worth £47 million. Included in this sum is £14 million shared among all local authorities.
A further £20 million will be allocated later in the year to support more schemes.
In addition, pupils will be helped to get to school through the Safe Routes in Communities grant – now worth £6.4 million. This will support 21 schemes across Wales and has a focus on creating safe walking and cycling routes around schools.
The investment in active travel forms part of funding package worth more than £210 million to support the Government’s new transport strategy which was announced yesterday.
“Continuing our funding to create safe routes to schools is particularly important as we know that embedding healthy travel habits early leads to lasting benefits,” Lee Waters, Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport, said.
“Our investment will lead to better connected towns and cities and contributes to efforts to tackle the climate emergency, cut congestion, improve public health and clean up our air quality.”
New support for bereaved parents in Wales
The Welsh Government has announced that from 1 April, families in Wales who have registered the loss of a child under the age of 18 will be able to receive £500 as a contribution towards funeral costs.
Families will not be required to actively seek the funding or make a claim. Instead, a one-off payment will be offered by the Registrar when the death is registered.
The additional financial support for funerals is part of a wider package for families who have lost a child, which includes the development of national bereavement standards and a new £1m grant to help address the gaps in bereavement service provision across Wales.
Since 2017, Welsh Government has worked with local government and One Voice Wales, which represents town and community councils in Wales, to waive child burial and cremations fees.
Rhian Mannings MBE, the founder and Chief Executive Officer of 2 Wish Upon A Star, a charity supporting people affected by sudden death in children and adults, said: “Nobody should ever have to experience the death of their child. It goes against the pattern of life and leaves unimaginable pain and grief.
“That pain and devastation is often compounded by the financial burden of paying funeral costs which can amount to thousands of pounds. Planning the funeral is a difficult process.
“Parents making choices about their final goodbyes is another part of the grieving process but knowing there is funding available to help towards the costs of funerals would be appreciated by so many.”
Avian flu measures set to be lifted on 31 March
Compulsory housing measures for poultry and captive birds in Wales are set to be lifted at the end of this month.
The restrictions were introduced across Great Britain in December as one of a range of measures put in place to stop the spread of avian influenza, which is circulating in wild birds.
Defra, the Scottish Government and Welsh Government have been working closely with industry and bird keepers to ensure that there are strict biosecurity measures in and around poultry premises to help keep flocks safe.
Measures put in place have been successful in helping to contain the disease and, provided that there are no new significant cases between now and the end of March, the current measures are due to be relaxed. The last confirmed case in poultry in Great Britain was over a month ago on 12 February in Scotland.
While the risk of bird flu has been reduced to ‘medium’, the risk of outbreaks is likely to persist for several weeks. As a result, enhanced biosecurity requirements that were brought in as part of the Avian Influenza Protection Zone (AIPZ) on 11 November will remain in place.
Bird keepers are advised to use the next two weeks to prepare the ranges and outdoor areas for release of the birds. This will include cleansing and disinfection of hard surfaces, fencing off ponds or standing water and reintroduction of wild bird deterrents.
In addition, when the birds are allowed out at the end of March all poultry and captive bird keepers will need to keep taking extra precautions, such as cleaning and disinfecting equipment, clothing and vehicles, limiting access to non-essential people on their sites, and workers changing clothing and footwear before entering bird enclosures.
Public health advice is that the risk to human health from the H5N8 virus strain is low and from the H5N2, H5N5 and H5N1 virus strains is very low. Food standards bodies advise that avian influenza poses a very low food safety risk for UK consumers, and it does not affect the consumption of poultry products including eggs.
In a joint statement the Chief Veterinary Officers from England, Scotland and Wales said: “This will be welcome news for poultry keepers across the country who have put great effort into keeping their flocks safe this winter.
“We have taken swift action to contain and eliminate this disease and all bird keepers – whether they have just a few birds or thousands – must continue do their bit to maintain strict biosecurity measures on their premises so that we do not lose the progress that we have made over the past few months as Low risk does not mean No Risk.”
Poultry and captive bird keepers and members of the public should continue to report dead wild birds to the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77 (option 7), and keepers should report suspicion of disease to 0300 3038268.