News in brief: Government under fire as testing targets are missed
The Welsh Government has come under fire from opposition parties as latest figures confirm that close to 75% of coronavirus test results from the 11 regional drive-in test centres in Wales are failing to be processed within 24-hours.
The drive-in centres, based in Cardiff, Newport, Abercynon, Cwm, Llandudno, Deeside, Carmarthen, Swansea, Margam, Builth Wells and Newtown, are mainly used by the public.
Just 26.8% of the 5,252 tests at the centres came back within a day, while 86.3% were back within two days.
Last week 39% of tests came back within 24 hours, and 83% in 48 hours.
The delay in meeting the government’s own benchmark for the delivery of results is the worst since the pandemic began.
The performance of smaller community testing units (CTUs), where healthcare workers are given priority, improved slightly, with 36.6% of around 8,000 tests being processed within 24 hours, while of the 4,500 tests done in hospitals, 87.9% met the target.
Of the 8,664 tests carried out at CTUs last week just 32% came back in 24 hours, and 49% in 48 hours.
The Royal College of Nursing called for an investigation into slow turnaround times in community testing units in Wales last week.
Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Local Government Minister Delyth Jewell MS, expressed “serious concerns” over the government’s ability to respond quickly to stamp out new outbreaks of Covid-19 due to the delays
“I am extremely concerned to hear that three quarters of test results from regional testing centres take longer than 24 hours to be returned. A well-functioning test and trace system acts as an early warning for new outbreaks. If tests take longer than 24 hours to be returned, it severely limits our ability to stamp out new outbreaks quickly.
“If Wales is faced with a second wave, without a robust first line of defence, the Welsh Government will find themselves left with only one option – a return to lockdown conditions.”
Andrew RT Davies MS, the Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Minister, described the testing programme as a “debacle” and questioned the number of tests currently being carried out.
“Today’s statistics have laid bare just how inadequate the Welsh Labour-led Government’s testing response has been,” he said.
“For the third consecutive week now lab capacity has been stuck at 15,157 and even more disappointingly only 7,546 tests – less than half of capacity – were carried out in the last 24 hours.
“Labour’s health minister is running out of excuses and it’s high time he brought someone in who can get on top of the situation, as he’s clearly not up to the task.”
A Welsh Government spokeswoman said: “As set out in our recently published strategy, testing turnaround times is a key focus and we have been putting in place measures to improve our turnaround times in the labs and throughout the end-to-end process.”
Five new deaths due to coronavirus have been reported in Wales today. All five deaths were in the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board area.
The total number of deaths due to the virus has risen to 1,554.
Public Health Wales has confirmed 32 new cases, taking the overall total of infections to 17,223. There were 3,640 tests carried out on Tuesday.
Tories back scrapping of two-metre social distancing rule
Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Covid-19 Recovery, Darren Millar MS, has published a wish-list of seven measures, including relaxing the two-metre social distancing rule, as the government prepare their review of the coronavirus lockdown restrictions tomorrow.
Two weeks ago First Minister Mark Drakeford stressed the two-metre social distancing rule “remains the default position in Wales”.
“If you are able to run a business taking all reasonable measures to sustain a two-metre distance that is what the law in Wales will require you to do,” Mr Drakeford said.
“But we recognise that there will be some context and some business for whom that simply isn’t practically possible and in those circumstances what the law in Wales will require is that those businesses will have to take a series of other mitigating measures.”
The revisions to the current restrictions the Tories want to see are:
- Relax the two-metre social distancing rule (with mitigating measures)
- Make face coverings in shops mandatory
- Permit people to meet in larger groups of up to five households outdoors
- Extend social bubbles to allow people to meet more loved ones indoors (up to three households at a time and including overnight stays)
- Re-open theatres and bingo halls
- Re-open indoor gyms, leisure centres, swimming pools, and equestrian centres
- Allow indoor weddings and receptions at more venues
“The people of Wales are enduring the toughest coronavirus restrictions in the UK and it is high time that their hard work in preventing the spread of the virus was rewarded,” Mr Millar said.
“These freedoms have or are being safely restored in other parts of the UK and people in Wales should be able to enjoy them too. We need to continue to re-open our society and economy while protecting lives and livelihoods.”
The Welsh Government are currently considering a range of options, including the opening of pubs, bars, cafes, and restaurants indoors if infection rates continue to slide.
New scheme offers TV and film companies protection from losses due to Covid-19
The UK government has launched a new £500 million scheme that could see the filming of major TV series and feature films resume in Wales.
Film and TV production largely shut down in March when the lockdown was introduced.
Despite the easing of many restrictions, companies have been unable to get back to work because insurers will not provide Covid-19 cover.
The UK-wide film and TV production restart scheme, announced by culture secretary Oliver Dowden, will see the government effectively takes on the role of an insurer, offering support to productions if they incur losses because of the virus.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “This targeted scheme, which will help fill the gap created by the lack of available insurance, will help protect tens of thousands of jobs, from actors and directors through to camera operators, costume designers, and runners.
“The sector is worth over £12bn to the UK’s economy, so it’s right that we do what we can to help them reopen and get back to making the films and shows that we all love.”