News in brief: First Minister says face masks rules will change if infections increase
First Minister Mark Drakeford has warned that face coverings will be made mandatory in more settings in Wales if coronavirus infection rates start to go up.
Currently face coverings are only compulsory on public transport but people are also advised to wear them in public places when they cannot socially distance.
In England face coverings were made compulsory for customers in shops on 24 July.
They are also compulsory in enclosed public spaces such as supermarkets, indoor shopping centres, transport hubs, banks and takeaways and public transport.
Face coverings were made mandatory on all public transport in Scotland in June and that ruling was extended to shops last month.
“We will make them mandatory in other places if coronavirus starts to spread in Wales again,” Mr Drakeford said during a live Facebook question and answer session.
“But at the moment coronavirus is so effectively suppressed that we don’t think it is proportionate, that it is fair, to say to somebody ‘you can’t go into a shop unless you’re wearing one’.
“There are lots of people who aren’t comfortable wearing face coverings.
“People with breathing difficulties for example, or if you rely on seeing somebody else, if you’re lip reading, it’s difficult if someone else is wearing a face covering.
“But I want to be clear with everybody that if the virus begins to circulate again in Wales and we think it is right to make them mandatory in shops or other settings we won’t hesitate to do so.”
Last month Dr Frank Atherton Wales’ Chief Medical Officer, told BBC Wales that the evidence for the mandatory wearing of masks was “really quite weak”.
“There is undoubtedly a small benefit to the wearing of face masks but most of that evidence is based on surgical face masks, the sort you see in hospitals, rather than the sort of simple face masks that are being advocated in the community,” he added.
Both the Welsh Conservatives and Plaid Cymru have called for the government to make wearing masks compulsory in shops in Wales.
Two new deaths from Covid-19 have been confirmed in the latest report from Public Health Wales. The total number of deaths in Wales due to the virus has now increased to 1,581.
Thirteen new cases were confirmed in the last 24 hours, taking the total number of infections to 17,476. On Monday 7,773 tests were carried out.
New package of support aims to keep people in their homes and end homelessness
The government has confirmed funding of up to £50 million is being made available to support projects across Wales, providing people with safe and secure homes to make sure they do not fall into homelessness and to ensure that no-one who was housed during the coronavirus lockdown is forced back onto the streets.
An initial £10m in funding for homeless people was announced in March as the lockdown was introduced.
The initial phase of the homelessness response focused on ensuring everyone had accommodation where they could self-isolate if necessary and could follow public health advice on basic hygiene, hand washing and social distancing.
Phase 2 focuses on a longer term approach to transform services, innovate and build accommodation, with the ambition of ensuring everyone who was provided with emergency accommodation during the coronavirus pandemic has a clear route to permanent housing and providing high quality accommodation for those who are threatened with homelessness in the future.
The government has also provided a package of support to make sure as many people as possible facing financial hardship because of the pandemic remain in their private rented homes, sustaining tenancies and avoiding eviction due to rent arrears.
Last week a temporary increase in the notice period for eviction was announced, providing greater protection from homelessness for tenants in private rented and housing association accommodation.
In July, an extra £1.4m was announced to help tenants boost their household income and manage problem debt, through the Single Advice Fund. In addition, the new Tenant Saver Loan Scheme will provide an affordable way to cover rent arrears, or future months’ rent, reducing the risk of eviction and homelessness.
These loans will be paid directly to landlords and are available for tenants who were not in significant rent arrears prior to March 1st this year.
Minister for Housing and Local Government, Julie James said: “The coronavirus has shone a light on housing in a way that few of us have seen before and reminded us all of the fundamental importance of good-quality affordable housing, a safe and secure home and strong and cohesive communities where people want to live and work. The best way we can tackle homelessness is by preventing it in the first place.
“I have been clear that I do not wish to see anyone forced to return to the streets. We have a unique opportunity to change the services and change lives for the better – and make homelessness rare, brief, and unrepeated. We want to build on the success we have seen so far and change Wales’ approach to homelessness in the long term.”
Travel review expanded to 4-16-year-olds
A Welsh Government review of transport for learners has been expanded to consider the distances when children aged 4-16 can become eligible to receive free travel to school.
The review was initially focused on students over 16 years old.
Currently primary school pupils are entitled to free transport if they live more than two miles from their school, and secondary school pupils can get free transport if they live over three miles from school.
The aim is for the review to be completed by the end of March 2021.
Lee Waters, Deputy Transport Minister, said: “It’s clear that it isn’t always practical or safe for children to walk or cycle the current distances to school so we are trying to find a common sense solution that helps our young people travel safely.
“Our wider agenda for active travel means this is a delicate balancing act between encouraging more pupils to walk and cycle, and ensuring they continue to have safe school transport. We’ll do what we can to make sure parents are not left with no alternative but to drive their children to school.”
£1.55 million scheme to help plant more trees opens for application
A new £1.55m capital investment scheme has been launched to help increase capacity in the forestry sector and to plant more trees.
The Forestry Industry Recovery Scheme, as part of the National Forest Programme, is open to applications from enterprises involved in the sustainable harvesting of trees in Wales and/or the growing of trees in Wales for planting in Wales.
A key aim of the scheme is to improve the capacity of tree nurseries to supply trees.
Support will also be available for:
• ground preparation equipment;
• equipment for tree safety works for trees affected by Ash Dieback; and
• equipment or appropriate technology that aids the harvesting of timber which improves sustainable forest management and resilience in natural resources.
Eligible projects will be able to access a maximum single grant of 200,000 Euros. The scheme is open for applications until 18 October 2020.