News in brief: Health chief says ‘no headroom’ for easing restrictions until mid-February
The chief medical officer for Wales says there will be no easing of Covid restrictions until after the second week in February at the earliest.
The result of the next review of the lockdown restrictions in Wales is due to be announced by the First Minister on Friday but Dr Frank Atherton said there is “no headroom” for easing restrictions currently.
Speaking at today’s Welsh Government briefing, Dr Atherton said the next review in three weeks will be the one “to think about further relaxations”.
Dr Atherton also indicated that the strategy to deal with the pandemic is unlikely to switch back to local lockdowns as we saw put in place last year.
“My personal view is that we’re better sticking with a Wales-wide approach,” Dr Atherton said.
“We’ve talked before about whether we should have a north and a south division, and we’ve seen the virus move very quickly from the south of Wales up to the north of Wales.
“I think it moves so quickly that an all-Wales approach to my mind remains the best hope for us.”
Despite new figures that estimate the R rate of transmission is now below one in Wales, but Dr Atherton warned “we are not out of the woods”.
“The seven-day case rate for Wales is currently around 200 cases per 100,000 people,” he said.
“This is significantly lower than the very high rates of 650 cases per 100,000 people that we were seeing in the weeks before Christmas.
“The good news is that it’s falling in all parts of Wales.
“We believe the R number is below 1 – at between 0.7 and 0.9.
“All this tells us that transmission of the infection is slowing, and the size of the current outbreak is shrinking.”
Meanwhile, further 49 people have died in Wales with coronavirus, according to the latest figures from Public Health Wales.
There have also been 537 new positive tests for Covid-19 since yesterday’s update.
Over 22,000 people received their first coronavirus vaccine dose yesterday, taking the total number to 312,305 since the rollout began on 8 December.
Cardiff and Vale, Cwm Taf Morgannwg and Aneurin Bevan all reported 11 new deaths since Tuesday’s update. Betsi Cadwaladr recorded 10 further deaths and there were four in Swansea Bay and three in Hywel Dda.
Wrexham (59) had the highest number of new cases, followed by Cardiff with 53. The next highest total was 41 among people not resident in Wales.
Wrexham has the highest weekly case rate in Wales at 503.1 per 100,000 people but the rate across Wales has now dropped to 203.8, the lowest since the week ending 22 November.
Tory Senedd candidate found guilty of breaching code of conduct.
Vale of Glamorgan councillor Leighton Rowlands has been found to have brought his local authority into disrepute, after opening a wine bar in Barry last year without planning permission.
The Public Service Ombudsman said Mr Rowlands, who is standing for election in Cardiff South and Penarth in May, had breached the local authority’s code of conduct following a complaint filed by Vale of Glamorgan council leader, Neil Moore.
Mr Rowlands was a director of The Watering Hole café and wine bar at the time it opened in June 2019 despite change of use planning permission not being in place.
Mr Rowlands is a member of the council’s planning committee.
According to BBC Wales, the ombudsman said in the report: “Councillor Rowlands said he found planning matters complicated and difficult to understand.
“Councillor Rowlands said his understanding was that… (planning permission) was a grey area, and he had not grasped that… (not having it) would be a breach of planning control.”
The initial report recommended no further action be taken against Mr Rowlands, however, an appeal against that decision has been made.
Mr Rowlands was mayor of Vale of Glamorgan council between 2018 and 2019.
Plaid Cymru renews calls for Rhondda flooding inquiry
Plaid Cymru has put forward a motion in the Senedd urging the Welsh Government to establish an inquiry into the floods in the Rhondda last year and said by resisting calls for an independent inquiry it is “failing to protect” local people.
Storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorge all struck the area early last year, causing floods which affected close to 1,500 homes and businesses in Rhondda Cynon Taf.
Leanne Wood, Plaid Cymru Member of the Senedd for the Rhondda said that “lessons need to be learned” around why the floods occurred and how further floods can be prevented, and that those affected should be protected from reliving the same trauma again.
“We can’t allow these communities to rebuild their lives, their homes and their businesses just to have them torn apart all over again,” she said.
“Labour in Westminster urged the UK Government to investigate floods in England last year, a motion which was backed by all MPs in the valleys, and yet in Wales where Labour is in power they’re opposed to an investigation. One Welsh Labour MP went as far as describing an independent inquiry into the flooding in the Rhondda as ‘just about the daftest idea I have heard’.
“You cannot put a price on safeguarding people and their homes or giving people the peace of mind an inquiry would bring. Climate change means further severe weather is inevitable, but the flooding of houses doesn’t have to be if the right actions to prevent them are identified. The people of the Rhondda shouldn’t be forced to relive the same trauma ever again.”
National Resources Wales slammed over pollution response
Jez Hemming, local democracy reporter
Natural Resources Wales have been blasted over a “lacklustre” response to a fuel spill which campaigners fear could threaten local wildlife.
Oil was spotted flowing along “Prestatyn Gutter” a watercourse running from Meliden down to Barkby Beach in the town.
The leak was reported to the Welsh Government sponsored Natural Resources Wales (NRW) early last week and they say they have taken action to mitigate the impact of the spill.
But Denbighshire county councillor Paul Penlington believes the measures are not robust enough to protect local wildlife.
The Prestatyn North member said: “I am hugely shocked by the lacklustre response from Natural Resources Wales to this potential environmental disaster. I raised this with them several days ago and have spoken to them a number of times since.
“For four days, (that) I know of, fuel has flowed the length of Prestatyn’s Gutter from Meliden into the sea and very little is being done to address this.
“They are a government sponsored body with ultimate responsibility for ensuring waterways, and the wildlife in them, are protected. It appears they are seriously failing in their duty right now.”
The waterway flows through Morfa community woodland where protected water voles are found.
It also runs out close to the sand dunes between Barkby Beach and Talacre, which is a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) with protected sand lizards and Natterjack toads.
The beach also has the only little terns breeding colony in Wales.
Cllr Penlington said he witnessed a “fuel slick flowing freely” on Friday and followed it as far as the Morfa, where it was still present so he called NRW.
He went back to the area on Saturday and traced the spillage back as far as Meliden.
Tracy Pierce, a local environmental campaigner who runs Hedgehog Help Prestatyn, said: “This pollution must be tackled urgently and the source identified. Our wildlife is at risk of contamination – and ultimately death of animals in the food chain.”
Steve Fenner from the Morfa Gateway environmental group said: “I was one of the people who spotted the oil in the water on Thursday and was shocked.
“I have serious concerns about the wildlife being affected, like the water voles that it has been good seeing on the banks of Prestatyn Gutter alongside Coed Y Morfa last year. Many people have volunteered for years to improve and protect our local natural areas.”
Environment team leader at NRW, Rhys Ellis said: “NRW was made aware of the oil pollution incident at Prestatyn Gutter on Tuesday 19 January during Storm Christoph.
“Officers responded to the incident immediately and liaised with local businesses and farmers regarding the incident.
“Due to a number of issues associated with the severe weather in North East Wales, oil absorbents were not able to be placed until Thursday.
“Additional booms were deployed on Saturday in order to contain the flow of the pollutant.
“Officers are attending the area on a regular basis and are continuing to monitor the situation.”
“We have notified Denbighshire County Council’s Environmental Health and Denbighshire countryside services of this issue and will continue to liaise with them during the incident.”
Denbighshire Council said, as the incident is under the jurisdiction of NRW it had “nothing to add at this stage”.
NRW is urging anyone with information on the spill to call its incident hotline on 0300 065 3000.