News in brief: Health board to prioritise second vaccine doses as supplies dip
Jez Hemming, local democracy reporter
First dose vaccinations have taken a back seat to second doses because of a dip in supply from manufacturers.
Vaccine numbers, which have reduced in north Wales for a couple of weeks because of “central supply issues”, will increase again within the next week or so.
The news comes after the number of people receiving a first dose of the vaccine passed the 200,000 mark in north Wales.
This week, Betsi Cadwaladr University health board is receiving 16,380 Pfizer and 10,000 Astra Zeneca doses, with Pfizer vaccines being used for second doses, according to information distributed to MPs and Senedd members.
In the previous week, around 20,000 people received a first dose and more than 41,000 the week before that.
The issues with reduced central supplies of the vaccine, which has affected all health boards, will be resolved in early March, according to health minister Vaughan Gething.
He said there had been a two-week dip in supply of the inoculation but stocks were due to increase more quickly than expected.
Mr Gething said: “We are now urgently working through plans to match delivery capacity to that supply profile.
“We want to ensure as many people as possible can be vaccinated as soon as those earlier supplies allow.
“We have always said our vaccination programme can go faster, but is subject to increased predictable vaccine supply.”
He also revealed he expected Wales to be able to match England’s “pace” of vaccination roll-out.
Betsi said it expects to hit its target of immunising everyone in priority groups 1-9 by the end of April.
Almost two thirds (63%) of the over 65s had been vaccinated up to February 21, and the board will start immunising people in priority group 6 (those aged 60-64) once the figure reaches 80% in the coming days.
A list has been drawn up of staff to be offered the jab if people fail to turn up for their appointment.
This now includes police officers after a national agreement was reached but the board is still awaiting national guidance on which unpaid carers fall into priority group six.
Betsi has also set up a task and finish group with GPs to remove barriers for people with disabilities, sight and hearing problems or cultural or language barriers, as well as travelling communities and the homeless, and make sure they get equal access to vaccinations.
There is still a small percentage of people who have not been reached in priority groups 1-4 and the board is urging anyone in these groups who hasn’t been contacted to call 03000 840004 and arrange an appointment.
So far 91% of the first four priority groups have either been vaccinated or offered a jab.
As of 21 February:
- 213,107 people had received Covid-19 vaccinations in North Wales.
- 202,804 first dose
- 10,250 second dose
- 174,870 vaccinations given to those in top four priority groups (including first and second doses)
Plaid MS welcomes launch of free data scheme for disadvantaged pupils
Leanne Wood has welcomed confirmation from Education Minister Kirsty Williams that free data and devices will be made available for disadvantaged pupils in Wales.
Ms Wood, Rhondda Member of the Senedd, wrote to First Minister Mark Drakeford in January to call for free unlimited data to be provided to all pupils in Wales that need it during the lockdown and said it is vital that every child has a device and internet access if they are not to fall behind their peers.
In England, BT has teamed up with the Department of Education to ensure families and carers supporting children without internet access will get unlimited data until the end of the current academic year.
In a letter to Ms Wood, Kirsty Williams wrote: “Since the Department for Education (DfE) launched their data uplift pilot scheme, my officials have been in negotiations with UK’s four main Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), alongside a number of Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) to extend the scheme to learners in Wales.
“The scheme will increase the mobile data allowance for either the parent / carer of the learner, or the learners account if deemed appropriate, where the individual has an existing account with the MNOs / MVNOs (and which meets their pre-conditions). In line with the DfE agreement, uplifts are currently scheduled to run until 31 July 2021.
“The Welsh Government is actively engaged with 9 MNOs / MVNOs (BT / EE, O2, Three, SMARTY, Vodafone, Virgin Mobile, Tesco Mobile, Sky Mobile), and are in the final stages of agreeing legal terms and conditions. Local authorities have already been briefed on the data collection process that facilitates this scheme.”
The Education Minister confirmed there would also be additional money for an extra 50,000 devices for children which are expected to be delivered in ‘April and May.
“I am glad the pressure we have applied has paid off. It is wrong that nearly a year after we first went into lockdown, there are still children without access to internet or suitable devices in their own home. This is something that should have been sorted out a long time ago,” Ms Wood said.
“It is better late than never and I hope that the internet access scheme and the additional devices for children in Wales will allow those pupils who have fallen behind through no fault of their own, to catch up with their home schooling.
“There is a well-established link between poverty and attainment and our government should be doing more about it. I will keep a close eye on how matters develop in the Rhondda to ensure that this help goes to everyone that needs it.”
Covid case rates in Wales lowest since 20 September
A further 13 people have died with coronavirus and 236 new positive tests for the virus have been confirmed in today’s update from Public Health Wales.
Six of the newly reported deaths occurred in the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board. Cwm Taf Morgannwg and Hywel Dda both recorded two further deaths in the last 24 hours and Cardiff and Valle and Swansea Bay both confirmed one death since yesterday.
The weekly case rate across Wales has dropped to 75.7 per 100,000 people, the lowest since 20 September last year and the positive test proportion is 6.9% per 100,000 tests.
Flintshire has the highest infection rate in the country at 103.1 and with a positive test rate of 10.2% is now the only local authority in Wales in double figures.
In total, 878,506 people have received a first dose of Covid vaccine and 59,279 have received both doses.
New law passed giving more protection for tenants in Wales
New legislation has been passed in the Senedd, which the government says will give tenants more protection and will also clarify landlord and tenant responsibilities.
From spring 2022, rental contracts in Wales will change to give tenants the stability of a minimum 12-month contract.
Minimum notice periods will be extended from two to six months in the case of “no fault evictions” – with landlords only able to serve notice six months after tenants have moved in.
Although the notice period that landlords have to give will be longer, they will still be able to seek to repossess their property if a tenant is in breach of contract.
Rental contracts will also be simplified and standardised with model contracts available.
“This law will make renting a home in Wales fair, simple and efficient, and it will directly affect the lives of the one in three people who rent a home in Wales,” Housing and Local Government Minister Julie James said.
“There will also be clear benefits for landlords. Clearer and easier to understand contracts will reduce disputes and legal costs and the new regime will provide a better way for landlords to deal with abandoned properties.”
Conservatives criticise Welsh Government’s economic recovery plans
The government’s Economic Resilience and Reconstruction Mission, published yesterday, has a “worrying lack of focus on job creation, productivity, competitiveness, entrepreneurship”, according to Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Economy, Transport and Mid Wales, Russell George.
Outlining plans to rebuild the Welsh economy in a way that it says prioritises wellbeing, drives prosperity, is environmentally sound, and helps every person in Wales to realise their potential, Economy Minister Ken Skates also announced the government will make available an additional £270m to support business through the Development Bank of Wales.
“At a time when Welsh businesses and the Welsh economy need clarity, an aspirational timetable for a route out of this crisis, and a bit of leadership from the Labour Government, they’re let down again, Mr George said.
“The Minister refers in this grandly titled ‘mission’ to health and wellbeing, decarbonisation, the foundational economy, digital skills, rejuvenating town centres, and the green economy, but doesn’t detail how it aims to achieve advances or how it will improve the Welsh economy’s productivity, competitiveness and job creation, and barely mentions entrepreneurship and support for start-ups.
“Last week, I announced that a Welsh Conservative government would re-establish the WDA to rebuild Wales. We can achieve this, whereas another Labour government would just dig us into a deeper economic hole devoid of ambition and hope.”
Plaid Cymru also criticised the plan and says that it is a “a pale imitation of the £6bn Welsh Green Deal” that it has put forward.
Agreement paves the way for Muni Arts Centre reopening
Anthony Lewis, local democracy reporter
Rhondda Cynon Taf council has handed over the lease of the Muni Arts Centre in Pontypridd to the trust that is planning to restore it to its former glory.
Awen Cultural Trust, which is planning a £4.5m investment in the building in Gelliwastad Road, has taken a 30-year lease from Rhondda Cynon Taf Council.
Awen was chosen as the council’s preferred tenant and operator of the Muni in late 2019 and they have brought Purcell Architects on board who have recently been consulting with the community on the plans.
The aim is to secure the building’s heritage and celebrate the Gothic architecture for which it is recognised and listed while securing a sustainable future that meets the needs of the local community and establishes the Muni as a unique regional arts and music venue once again.
The Muni closed at the end of 2018 after the previous tenants Artis Community said they had been “dogged” by financial problems since their community asset transfer from the council three years previously. With debts rising the venue was closed and staff were made redundant.
After taking back the tenancy of the building the council advertised a “window of opportunity”, which was a chance for community organisations and businesses to express an interest in the leasehold transfer of the centre.
A council report said the building is at risk of dilapidation and vandalism and this proposal from Awen is the most cost-effective option for bringing back in to use this much-valued community asset.
Awen’s aim in partnership with the council is to apply for funding for this ambitious package over the next two to three years dependent on the funding climate in light of Covid-19.
The report said: “Awen Cultural Trust are a well-established charity with a much-valued reputation and experience of successfully managing a range of cultural arts venues and community assets in the South Wales Valleys.”
Under the terms of the agreement Awen Cultural Trust will have the internal repair and maintenance obligations in relation to the building with costs for individual repair items capped at £8,000 per item.
The council will keep responsibility for all external structures and internal repair and maintenance responsibilities for any internal costs exceeding £8,000 per item for the duration of the lease period.
These are changes to the original lease conditions under which Awen would have had to take on full repair and maintenance responsibilities for the both external and internal structures and systems at the Muni Arts Centre.
But because of the economic conditions as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the uncertainty of securing significant capital funding packages Awen were concerned about taking on the full repair and maintenance responsibilities.
Following negotiations between council officers and Awen the amendments to the lease conditions were made.
The report said: “Awen is an established and credible organisation with a positive and successful track record of managing and developing similar venues.
“They have good solid governance arrangements in place and the council is confident that they will be able to identify future risks early and in discussion with the council ensure these risks can be mitigated against with appropriate measures.”
Awen currently operates more than 18 cultural venues in Bridgend and Neath Porth Talbot including the Grade II listed Grand Pavilion in Porthcawl, Maesteg Town Hall, Bryngarw House and Country Park, and Blaengarw Workmen’s Hall.
RCT council will provide capital match funding of around £250,000 towards the funding package to support the Welsh Government Targeted Regional Investment Fund application to make the Muni fit for use.
The council will also contribute an annual revenue contribution to enable the Covid-safe operation of the facility and support the redevelopment of the venue and the customer base until it becomes a viable service.
In order to support both the initial redevelopment of the building and rebuild audience confidence and attendance the council will provide a five-year rent-free period with a review of any future market rent after the fifth year.