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News in brief: Government scientists concerned at rapid spread of new virus strain

09 Jan 2021 6 minute read
Covid heatmap. Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Scientific advisors to the Welsh Government have warned of the rapid spread of the new variant of COVID-19 across Wales in their latest report.

The Technical Advisory Group, which provides coordination of scientific and technical advice to support government decision makers during the pandemic, says the new variant that appears to have originated in the southeast of England during the summer, is “likely to become the dominant variant in Wales across the whole population in a matter of weeks.”

Research by Public Health England suggests there is no evidence that the new variant increases the likelihood of worse health outcomes for individuals but the higher rate of transmission results in a significant increase in hospital admissions over a short period of time.

The government is also advised that test results in Wales are likely to have significantly under-reported the speed of transmission of the virus.

The TAG report notes that cases of the new variant “continue to increase in Wales at a significant rate” but warns the current data has been affected by the Christmas holiday and “non-uniform testing for the variant across regions.”

Only a proportion of testing performed by the UK-wide Lighthouse labs programme detects the new variant and currently a smaller percentage of samples are tested in the south of Wales than the north.

Latest figures from Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board reveal 50% of cases have been tested for the new variant and of those 64% are likely to be the new strain.  This represents a 90% increase in one week. TAC concludes from these numbers that the new variant is likely to dominate new cases “within the next 1-2 weeks”.

In south Wales it’s estimated the prevalence of the new strain is at 25% (an increase of 50% in one week). Figures in Cardiff and Vale University Health Board were 21% up to 26 December, rising to 32% as of 2 January.

Meanwhile, a further 62 people in Wales have died with coronavirus and 2,3737 new cases of the virus have been reported in today’s bulletin from Public Health Wales.

Twenty of the newly reported deaths are in the Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board area and there are 12 in Hywel Dda and 11 in Cardiff and Vale.

Wrexham (242) had the highest number of new positive tests for the virus in the last 24 hours, followed by Cardiff ((227) and Flintshire (208).

Wrexham also has the worst weekly case rate in Wales at 959.9 per 100,000 people and the second highest positive test proportion (30.6% per 100,000), behind Bridgend’s 32.2%.

Photo by es74273 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Government extends evictions suspension

Legislation to extend the suspension of evictions in Wales until 31st March 2021 will come into force from next Monday, Minister for Housing and Local Government, Julie James has confirmed.

The Welsh Government had already agreed measures to suspend evictions, from social and private rented accommodation between December 11 and January 11 this year as part of its response to tackling the spread of Coronavirus and protect public health.

The new legislation will extend these measures to protect renters during the pandemic by preventing evictions except in cases of anti-social behaviour or domestic violence.

The extension is part of a wider package of Welsh Government funded measures to protect tenants and public health during the crisis which include:

  • Investing up to £50 million to tackle homelessness and to increase the number of both temporary and permanent homes;
  • Announcing an additional £40m Housing Support Grant and £4m Homelessness Prevention Grant, both focused on tackling and preventing homelessness and providing the support people need in the draft budget;
  • Increased the notice period for evictions from three to six months;
  • Introduced a new low interest, affordable Tenancy Saver Loan scheme paid directly to landlords or agents for tenants in rent arrears because of Covid-19; and
  • Established a private rented sector helpline run by Citizen Advice Cymru for tenants struggling with rent, income or housing benefits.

“We are taking further action to protect public health and support Welsh tenants. This is an extremely difficult time for many people and renters should not be forced out of their homes, at a time when we are asking people to stay at home and when they will have less access to advice, support and alternative accommodation,” Julie James said.

The extension of the notice period for evictions to 6 months will also remain in place until 31st March 2021. Both regulations will be kept under review and the suspension of evictions will be subject to a confirmatory vote in the Senedd.

Milland Road Car Park, Neath. Photo by Google

New testing centre brought to Neath

Hannah Neary, local democracy reporter

A new mobile testing centre has opened in Neath today, in a bid to boost the amount of people being tested in Neath Port Talbot.

Officials revealed an extra testing site has been established to improve access to testing, after the number of locals being tested for coronavirus declined over the Christmas holidays.

The new facility is at Milland Road Car Park, Neath and is open from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week.

Dr Keith Reid, Swansea Bay University Health Board Director of Public Heath, said: “We’ve seen the number of people being tested locally drop significantly over the holidays.

He added: We need everyone who might have Covid to come forward and be tested. Having local access to testing in Neath helps make it easier to get a test.”

Dr Reid also encouraged anyone with symptoms of Covid-19 to get tested and self-isolate “straight away”. Symptoms include a temperature, a new persistent cough or loss of taste or smell.

Anyone with symptoms is urged to remain home until they have had their test results.

Residents must book a test before attending the Milland Road site, which can be done by calling 119 or visiting:

Leader of Neath Port Talbot Council Rob Jones said the new facility is based in a “convenient” location for Neath Port Talbot residents and will “further strengthen” the local Test Trace Protect (TTP) process.

Locals do not need a car to access the testing centre, which will operate in addition to the sites at Longlands Lane Playing Fields, Margam, the Liberty Stadium, Swansea, and the mobile testing units across the Swansea Bay region.

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