News in brief: First case of Brazilian Covid variant detected in Wales
The latest report from the Welsh Government’s Technical advisory cell has confirmed the first case of the Brazilian variant of Covid-19 has been identified in Wales.
The Manaus variant of coronavirus was first detected in the UK at the end of February when six cases were identified, two in Bristol, one in the southeast of England and three Scottish residents who flew from Brazil to London and then on to Aberdeen.
A recent study suggested the Brazilian variant could cause reinfection for between 25% and 61% of people who have previously had Covid and that the variant was more transmissible than the original pandemic strain.
The Brazilian strain is not believed to be more deadly and early results from lab studies have showed that antibodies made in response to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine are still active against mutations found in the Brazil variant.
Health officials report there is not yet sufficient research to gauge the effectiveness of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine against the Manaus variant.
In England 51 cases of the Brazilian mutation have now been reported and there have been five confirmed cases in Scotland.
The Kent variant continues to be the dominant Covid-19 variant in Wales with 6,365 infections confirmed so far.
The TAC report notes the South African variant remains the most concerning, “due to ongoing evidence of weaker antibody neutralisation.”
According to the latest figures from the UK Government, there have been 21 confirmed cases and five probable cases in Wales.
Three cases of the Nigerian strain of coronavirus, described as a variant under investigation, have also been detected.
“The dominant strain in Wales is the Kent variant, and there is currently no evidence of widespread community transmission of other Variants of Concern in Wales,” Dr Chris Williams, Incident Director for the Covid-19 outbreak response at Public Health Wales said.
Meanwhile PHW has reported seven further deaths due to Covid and 201 new positive tests for the virus in today’s update.
Three of the newly reported deaths were in the Cardiff and Vale health board area. Betsi Cadwaledr, Cwm Taf Morgannwg, Hywel Dda and Powys each reported one further death.
Merthyr Tydfil continues to have the highest seven-day case rate at 139. 2 per 100,000 people, up from 134.3 yesterday after 12 new cases were detected and the weekly positive test proportion in Merthyr is also the highest in Wales at 7.6 % up from 7.4% per 100,000 tests.
Ceredigion has recorded just three cases in the last seven days and has a case rate of 4.1 and positive test rate of 0.5%.
The weekly national case rate has remained at 38.5 and the positive test proportion dropped from 3.1% to 3% since yesterday’s report.
Over 400,000 people in Wales have now received both jabs of Covid vaccine and over 1.3 million have had a first dose.
Mother’s Day get together linked to Newport Covid cluster
A cluster of Covid-19 cases in Newport has been linked to a family gathering on Mother’s Day.
A Welsh government spokesman said the outbreak was identified by “environmental health teams in Newport”.
The get together reportedly took place outside and has been linked to nine positive cases from up to four different households.
Three school year groups have been affected by the outbreak.
Overall, there have been 80 new cases of the virus reported in Newport this week, the sixth highest total in Wales.
On Wednesday Swansea Bay health board confirmed that 23 Covid infections had been linked to potentially illegal household gatherings in the Briton Ferry area.
Contact tracers identified 22 cases in Neath Port Talbot and one in Swansea linked to birthday celebrations and members of an extended family visiting each other indoors, breaking the lockdown rules.
Liberty Steel owner seeks government bailout
Liberty Steel founder Sanjeev Gupta is seeking a £170m government bailout to save Britain’s third biggest steel group, from collapse.
The company employs 3,000 people at 11 sites in the UK, including close to 200 at its Newport plant.
The jobs of another 2,000 people in engineering businesses within the group are also under threat.
Many of Liberty Steel’s assets were part of Tata Steel’s UK business until they were purchased for £100m in 2017.
The business has been struggling to survive since the collapse of its main financier Greensill Capital, which fell into administration earlier this month, forcing Liberty to pause production at some of its UK plants to conserve money.
If the bailout is approved, The Guardian newspaper reports ministers are expected to demand reassurances that any taxpayer funds used to support the company would stay in the UK and protect British jobs.
A government spokesperson told the Guardian: “The government is closely monitoring developments around Liberty Steel and continues to engage closely with the company, the broader UK steel industry and trade unions.
“The government has supported the steel sector extensively, including providing over £500m in recent years to help with the costs of energy. Our unprecedented package of Covid support is still available to the sector to protect jobs and ensure that producers have the right support during this challenging time.”
Last summer Tata Steel, the UK’s largest steel company failed in a bid to secure several hundred million pounds of financial support from the government.
Over 8,000 people in the UK work for Tata and 4,000 of those are employed at Port Talbot, the largest steelworks in the UK.
According to the Financial Times, citing unnamed sources, talks between the UK Treasury and Tata Steel were halted after the government concluded the Indian multinational was sufficiently financed and didn’t qualify for taxpayer support.
Crown Estate set for next round of lucrative wind farm auction
A new round of bidding for seabed rights for large scale wind farms to be located off the Welsh coast has been announced by the Crown Estate.
The Crown Estate, which manages land and property owned by the monarch, holds exclusive rights to lease the seabed around the British Isles, and earlier this year conducted its first auction of windfarm licences in a decade.
The auction was estimated to have raised up to £4 billion, with the proceeds potentially boosting the Queen’s income by at least £100m a year and producing over £300m a year for the UK Treasury.
The next leasing round for the Celtic Sea – the waters off south Wales and the south west of England – is open to wind farm projects up to three times larger than any rights previously awarded in the UK.
Following the previous round of bidding, which concluded in February, Wales Green Party called for Wales to get a fair share of money being generated from the auction.
Party leader Anthony Slaughter said, “we need to ensure that this value is invested well, and that Wales gets its fair share.”
“The latest round of auctions demonstrates the increasing value of what, for an independent Wales, would be our territorial waters. We are clear that the value gained from use of the seabed to site wind turbines is invested for the benefit of future generations here in Wales.
“Countries of comparable population size to Wales, such as Alaska and Norway, have invested their fossil fuel wealth in sovereign wealth funds. We need to see the value of Welsh renewable energy resources being used in a similar way,” he added.
“The history of natural resources in Wales has been one of extraction and exploitation.
“We need to make sure that as we transition to a renewable future, the value of our common heritage is invested for the common good.”
Ebbw Vale Civic Centre to be demolished
Emily Gill, local democracy reporter
Plans to demolish the Ebbw Vale Civic Centre have been given the go-ahead by Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council.
A report setting out a new council operating model and working arrangements was approved by the full council on Thursday, despite concerns over the lack of scrutiny.
The full council agreed to permanently vacate the civic centre, create a new ‘democratic hub’ at the general offices in Ebbw Vale, and a network of community hubs in libraries across the county borough.
The civic centre would then be demolished, and the land sold.
Discussing the plans Cllr Mark Holland said the civic centre is “not fit for purpose” because “it’s too big” and “things are scaling down”.
But Cllr Holland said there was still a need for a central office.
Cllr Malcolm Cross was one of several councillors who said that the issue hadn’t been given “the proper thought and planning”.
Cllr Steve Thomas put forward an amendment to defer the decision for a year so that it could be scrutinised further, but this was reject.
A council statement on the decision says it is “great news”.
It says: “Our office-based staff have been working remotely for over a year and in a recent survey staff told us that they have been more productive and most work can be successfully managed remotely. This shows the support and effectiveness of the approach.
“As a council we want to build on the learning and experience from operating under the pandemic restrictions. There are many benefits in moving to agile and modern working arrangements, on a permanent basis.
“We can reduce our office accommodation, reduce costs and improve residents’ access to the council services by moving these into the community.
“The benefits for staff are also clear including improving work/life balance and making us an employer of choice. It will in many cases reduce or remove the daily commute to work which will help with our decarbonisation commitments.
“This in turn reduces the time and the cost of travel to work as well as increasing the flexibility of how and where we work.”