News in brief: ‘Fix test and trace to prevent third lockdown’: Plaid Cymru

Swab test on a nursing home worker. Public domain.

Plaid Cymru Leader Adam Price say improving the test and trace programme in Wales should be key to the government’s plans following the end of the current firebreak lockdown on 9 November.

Mr Price’s comments followed Friday’s government briefing where First Minister Mark Drakeford confirmed the government will impose a legal requirement for people to self-isolate if told to do so by NHS Wales Test Trace Protect service and announced that people on low incomes will be able to apply to receive a £500 payment if they have tested positive for coronavirus or they are asked to self-isolate.

A new top-up payment is also being introduced for the social care workforce in Wales, to increase statutory sick pay to their normal wages if they have to take time off because they have coronavirus or are self-isolating.

Up to £32 million is being made available by the Welsh Government for the two schemes to support people and “remove the financial barriers faced by people needing to self-isolate.

“Securing public support is critical to the collective effort and compliance is key if the Test, Trace, Isolate, Support system is to work effectively,” Mr Price said.

“This should be incentivised through supported isolation including assistance if needed with accommodation, domestic assistance, and financial support up to £800 as recommended by Independent SAGE. Striking the right balance between enforcement, encouragement and support is crucial in keeping the public on board.

“But the key issue is still testing. The Welsh Government must focus on optimising Wales’s own testing capacity through NHS and university laboratories in order to expedite the testing process and facilitate reaching the ‘24-hour turnaround’ timescale target. That’s the only way we will keep case numbers down after the Fire Break is over.

Another 11 people have died with coronavirus according to the latest figures from Public Health Wales.

Overall a total of 1,859 people have died since the start of the pandemic at the end of February.

PHW also reported 1,737 new cases in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of people who have tested positive for the virus to 49,571.

The highest number of new cases in Wales was in Rhondda Cynon Taf (278) followed by Cardiff (252).

Merthyr Tydfil recorded 105 new infections and remains the area in Wales with the highest rate infection at 608.1 cases per 100,000 of the population in the last seven days. It also has the highest proportion of positive tests in the country at 27% per 100,000.

Picture by John Jones (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Travel restriction decision on Monday

First Minister Mark Drakeford has indicated that a decision on travel restrictions within Wales following the current firebreak lockdown will be announced on Monday.

Businesses in the tourism and hospitality sector are particularly concerned about the restrictions that could be in place when the current lockdown ends on 9 November and concerns have also been voiced about the possibility of travel being limited over the Christmas period.

The first minister said he is “acutely aware” of the impact of travel restrictions under the current lockdown.

“In some ways it is an unfair restriction, because it has a different impact depending on the size of a local authority you happen to live in,” he added.

“And the smaller the local authority, the greater the impact that has on your life. So all of that is playing a very important part in the thinking that we have been going through this week.”

Mr Drakeford also confirmed that he is expecting to meet with the UK government in the coming days to discuss a “common approach to Christmas”.

On Wednesday the Liberal Democrats wrote to the four governments of the UK calling for a “four nations summit” to consider a united approach to keeping family gatherings safe during the festive season.

And said agreement must be reached on:

  • Uniform guidance for family gatherings.
  • A common approach to student return and asymptomatic testing.
  • Cooperative measures to expand transport over the Christmas period.

“We need to share ideas and, wherever we can, particularly around that Christmas period, I would like to see as common an approach as we can craft together by recognising that the state of the virus and the response that’s being made, does differ from one part of the UK to another, ” the first minister added.

Photo by Tobias Heine from Pixabay

Government criticised following business development grants pause

The Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Economy, Business and Infrastructure, Russell George MS, has written to the government calling for it to reopen applications for business development grants from the Economic Resilience Fund

The government confirmed yesterday that the £100 million business grants element of the ERF had been fully subscribed with more than 5,500 businesses applying for support.

The business grants are part of the £300m made available in the third stage of the ERF to support businesses continuing to be affected by the coronavirus pandemic. £20m of this is ring-fenced for tourism and hospitality businesses.

Businesses can still however benefit from £200m available from the third phase of the fund November.

Businesses in retail, hospitality and leisure businesses that are required to close and which occupy a property with a rateable value of between £12,001 and £51,000 will be eligible for a share of the £200m funding available from the third phase of the fund in November and all businesses eligible for Small Business rate relief will also receive support.

Eligible firms that do not qualify for business rates linked grants are able to apply for awards of up to £2,000 from a £25m discretionary fund via their local authority.

After applications were paused “to allow an assessment of applications made against [the] fund value” Mr George said the decision “adds more concern and anxiety” for businesses struggling due to the financial impact of the pandemic and called for greater clarity about the application process.

“I can’t believe the Welsh Government didn’t anticipate that the Business Development Grants would be in such demand when they forced us into a disproportionate Wales-wide lockdown,” he said said.

The Welsh Government needs to re-open the application process and ensure funding meets demand not the other way round, or it will leave businesses wanting.

“This is compounding business concerns if they are not able to apply for the other forms of funding. As we come to the end of the first week in the second Wales-wide lockdown business owners are getting even more anxious, especially not knowing what the restrictions will be after the 9th November, as they try to keep afloat and provide jobs for local people.

“Confusion is also rife in whether or not these schemes are on a first-come, first-serve basis and that every hour that passes the support is dwindling and there won’t be any funding left.

“The Welsh Government needs to urgently clarify what the process is, who can apply and get this information out to local councils and businesses now.”

Speaking at Friday’s press briefing First Minister Mark Drakeford admitted the process for businesses to access support was “complex” but said they “understand” why that is the case.

“When we make schemes available in Wales, over and above the schemes available through the UK government, that does add complexity,” he said.

“But truthfully, it is a complexity that business understands and welcomes because with that complexity comes £500 million.”

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