News in brief: Health chief warns against complacency after jump in Delta variant cases
Public Health Wales is urging people to stick to social distancing rules and to take up the offer of a vaccine following the significant increase in the number of Delta variant cases of Coronavirus confirmed yesterday.
A total of 178 cases of the variant, originally identified in India in April, have been detected in Wales, an increase of 81 since last Thursday.
Health officials say there are early signs of localised community transmission of the variant, which had initially centred around a cluster of cases in north and south Wales, which could be driven by increased social mixing.
“The spread of the Delta variant in Wales is a reminder that we should not become complacent, even as rates of Coronavirus across Wales remain low, Dr Giri Shankar, Incident Director for the Coronavirus response at Public Health Wales, said.
“Protect yourself and others by taking up the offer of the vaccine, remaining at least two metres away from everyone else, washing your hands regularly, and by wearing a face covering where required.
“Self-isolate and get a test if you or anyone in your household develop symptoms.”
The Delta variant was first identified in India in April and is believed to be up to 60% more transmissible than the Alpha variant which sparked the second wave of the pandemic late last year.
Research suggests vaccines have reduced effectiveness against the variant especially in those that have received just one jab.
According to Public Health England, over 12,000 cases have been recorded in the UK, mostly in England and Scotland, and hospital admissions due to Covid are up 20% in England since 22 May.
Meanwhile, today’s update from PHW has confirmed one new death due to Covid and 113 new cases of the virus.
The newly recorded death was in the Aneurin Bevan health board area and takes the total number of deaths in Wales since the start of the pandemic in March last year to 5,570.
Swansea reported 22 new cases in the last 24 hours and has recorded 57 cases in the last week, the highest number in Wales.
Conwy, where a cluster of the Delta variant was detected last week, has the highest weekly case rate in the country at 29.0 per 100,000 people. Swansea has posted the second highest at 23.1 and has the highest positive test proportion at 2.7%.
The national case rate has jumped to 12.4 and the case rate is currently 1.3%.
Since the start of the mass vaccination programme in December, 2,195,485 people have received a first dose of vaccine and 1,314,368 have had both doses and are fully vaccinated.
Union backs ban for MPs facing sexual misconduct charges.
A trade union that represents staff at Westminster says MPs accused of sexual misconduct should be barred from Parliament while investigations take place.
Last month the House of Commons suspended Delyn MP Rob Roberts for sexual misconduct following an investigation by the Independent Expert Panel, which upheld complaints about “repeated and unwanted” sexual advances towards a male aide.
Mr Roberts also lost the Conservative Whip but is refusing to resign and can return to the House of Commons as an independent MP when his six week ban ends.
Because Mr Roberts’ ban was recommended by the panel and not a committee of the House, he will not face the possibility of a recall petition, which could force a by election.
Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of the Prospect trade union, said a ban, “would go a long way to improving confidence in the system if anyone with such an allegation hanging over them were not free to come and go as they please”.
“Any other employee would be suspended under these circumstances and the same should be the case here,” he added.
“The pandemic has demonstrated that it is entirely possible to carry out parliamentary duties remotely so no one should be democratically impacted by such a rule.
“There is no reason why this rule should not be brought forward as a matter of urgency.”
Lib Dems call for more support to end violence against women and girls
Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds has called for more action from the government to end violence against women and girls.
Incidents of domestic violence have increased significantly since the start of the Covid pandemic and support services are incurring additional costs as a result, according to the Lib Dems leader.
“There’s been a significant increase in the need for refuge places, in the need for services, and better, more targeted responses to those women and children who are coming forward after these lockdown periods,” she said.
“I welcome the 8% uplift in funding from the Welsh Government but more must be done to ensure that women everywhere are able to access the support they need and that rural communities, in particular, are not left behind.
“Women who are fleeing domestic violence, especially from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities must be given the refuge, support and services they desperately need to move on and rebuild their lives.
“The Government must finally recognise that our services are being stretched and fund them accordingly.
“The Welsh Liberal Democrats continue to call on the Welsh Government to safeguard funding for specialist services for victims of violence to adequately meet anticipated demand during and after the pandemic.”
Funding boost announced to support post-16 learners
The Welsh Government has announced £33 million of funding to provide extra teaching time to support learners in colleges and sixth forms.
The funding, part of the £150 million committed to the education response to Covid-19,
will be split between post-16 education providers, with £24.25 million for further education colleges and £8.75 million for school sixth forms.
“In terms of education, learners who began their post-16 education this academic year have been particularly impacted by the pandemic,” Jeremy Miles, the Minister for Education and Welsh Language, said.
“Though the way staff and students made the transition into blended learning has been excellent, there is simply no substitute for face-to-face learning in a class or lecture room with a teaching professional. Some students found learning online particularly challenging and I’m conscious of the impact of the pandemic on learners from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.
“It’s essential we invest now to support those students, so they can be reassured that they will have the time and support they need to re-engage with their education and enhance their learning.”
The funding will support additional teaching time for full-time learners aged between 16-19, who are starting AS, A level or vocational courses at either a sixth form or FE college.
Protesters renew pressure on council over woodlands sale
Alex Seabrook, local democracy reporter
Campaigners are renewing calls on Cardiff council to protect woodland which it is trying to sell, as new details have been revealed.
The calls come in the context of a new council policy to plant thousands of new trees across Cardiff and protect existing woodland.
A huge sewer running beneath Flaxland Woods would restrict how many houses could be built on the woodland, while several mature trees there could be legally protected.
But despite that, the council has kept the woodland on its disposal list. Its policy agreed last month on protecting woodland is “not intended to protect against development”.
Flaxland Woods is a half-acre woodland which sits between houses in Gabalfa and the A48 Western Avenue. Residents say it acts as a buffer absorbing air pollution from the busy road. The council, which owns the land, has been trying to sell it since 2019, without success.
Friends of Flaxland Woods, a local campaign group, is calling on the council to remove the woodland from its disposal list, recently writing a letter to council leader Huw Thomas.
They revealed new details about how the sewer would prevent any building near or on top of it, and how many of the mature oak and maple trees—some a century old—would also make building on the site difficult, as they would likely be subject to Tree Preservation Orders.
Rachelle Trubey, chair of Friends of Flaxland Woods, said: “The presence of mature ecology in the western part of the site, combined with the constraints [due to the sewer] in the eastern part, would prove very difficult to overcome from a development perspective.
“In addition to the new information about site constraints, we are conscious that council policy and commitments have changed significantly since Flaxland Woods was initially earmarked for sale in early 2019.”
Last month, the council’s cabinet agreed a new policy on planting thousands of new trees in Cardiff and protecting existing woodland, part of the wider ‘One Planet’ climate agenda.
In ‘Let’s Make Cardiff Greener, Healthier, Wilder’, the council said trees have an important use in removing air pollution, preventing flooding, and absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But it seems less so, if those trees are on land that could be developed.
The policy document states: “Land in council ownership that becomes surplus to council requirements and is suitable for development will continue to be considered through the current land disposal process.
“The council’s commitment to this motion is intended to provide appropriate new spaces for community activity. It is not intended to make land available to communities to protect against development.”
Despite the restraints and the new trees policy, the council said Flaxland Woods was still on the disposal list, and up to four houses could be built on the site. The council has offered to sell the site to the Friends group, for about £30,000.
A spokesperson for Cardiff council said: “The offer remains for the local community group to acquire the entirety of the site referred to as Flaxland Woods.
“If this is not taken forward, the council would seek to develop much-needed housing on a small section of the site, which would still leave two thirds opened up and available for public access.
“The council has always been conscious of the site constraints and has only ever proposed to build on a proportion of the site, which is why the guide price is so low.”
The Friends group said it has explored buying the land, but would face logistical and legal hurdles, and urged the council to rethink selling the land.
Ms Trubey said: “We believe this new information, and the direction of policy travel since the land was listed for sale, afford the council an opportunity to reflect and reassess the inclusion of Flaxland Woods on the disposal list.
“While recently announced tree-planting schemes are to be applauded, such schemes will take decades to deliver equivalent benefits to existing mature woodland in terms of avoided runoff, carbon storage and sequestration, wildlife habitat provision and air pollution removal.”