News in brief: Health chief warns against easing restrictions too quickly as outdoor hospitality reopens
Wales’ Chief Medical Officer has described the latest round of changes to Covid restrictions as “relatively low risk” but warns that “every relaxation that is made will impact on transmission rates”.
From today, up to six people from six households will be able to meet, with social distancing and hygiene measures in place, outdoor attractions, such as zoos and theme parks, can also reopen, wedding receptions and funerals can again be held outdoors at regulated premises with up to 30 people and organised outdoor activities, limited to 30 people, can resume.
Dr Frank Atherton said the changes, announced on Friday by First Minister Mark Drakeford, “are those which provide health and well- being benefits at relatively low risk” as they are taking place outdoors or in regulated environments but warned of the dangers of easing restrictions to quickly and of the threat posed by restarting non-essential international travel.
“These easements are consistent with our approach of unlocking cautiously so as to allow for relaxations to be monitored and assessed,” he said.
“This approach pays heed to the modelling data which predicts that re-opening too rapidly could result in increased community transmission with rising hospital admissions and deaths. Our lived experience of emerging from the first UK-wide lockdown and from the Welsh firebreak have demonstrated how quickly our situation can deteriorate.”
“Every relaxation that is made will impact on transmission rates. This has potential to propagate infection into younger age groups thus affecting those who have either not been vaccinated or for whom vaccination does not stimulate a good protective response.
“There is considerable risk in the too rapid reinstatement of non-essential international travel as this would pose the threats of re-seeding of infection and of the introduction of new vaccine-resistant variants.”
Hospitality is set to reopen indoors in Wales from 17 May, along with increased limits on those who can attend organised events, if Covid case rates remain low.
Meanwhile, today’s figures from Public Health Wales have confirmed two further deaths due to coronavirus and 97 new cases of the virus.
The newly reported deaths were in the Bets Cadwaladr and Cardiff and Vale Health board areas.
Swansea (20) Newport (16) and Cardiff (10) were the only three areas to report double figure increases in cases and four local authorities had no new infections over the weekend.
Gwynedd has the highest weekly case rate in Wales at 26.5 per 100,000 people and has the highest positive test proportion at 3.3% per 100,000 tests. The national case rate is 12.9 and the test rate is 1.5%.
According to PHW, there have been 306 cases in the last seven days, down 34% on the 464 cases the previous week.
Tories promise ‘new deal’ for north Wales
The Welsh Conservatives have accused successive Labour administrations of taking “the people and communities of North Wales for granted” and have pledged to create a dedicated minister for the regions if the win next month’s Senedd election.
Claiming there is “growing disconnect between the north and the Senedd” they also accuse the government of mismanaging public services and failing to invest in major infrastructure projects.
Among other proposals in the “new deal” for north Wales are relocating a new Welsh Treasury and a reformed Welsh Development Agency, creating 200 new jobs, delivering a north Wales Metro which integrates public transport with active travel, an upgrade to the A55 and improved rail links between north Wales and the north West of England, including Manchester and Liverpool Airports.
“For many people in North Wales, Cardiff Bay can be as distant as Westminster or as Brussels ever was and appears out of touch with reality,” Welsh Conservative Senedd leader, Andrew RT Davies said.
“Labour’s wasteful and incompetent management of the budget and key public services has emphasised perceptions of a Cardiff Bay administration operating in a bubble, unaware of the challenges facing hardworking people.
“Welsh Conservatives will change that and work with colleagues in the UK Government to deliver on schemes such as a Holyhead freeport, A55 upgrades and a North Wales Metro system to improve connectivity across the region.
“After 22 years of Labour running the show in Cardiff Bay, it’s time to turn the page on a difficult chapter and ensure the people and communities in north Wales are listened to and delivered for.”
Covid testing kits made available for those unable to work from home
Volunteers and those who are unable to work from home can order a lateral flow self-test kit to be delivered direct to their home from today.
Around 1 in 3 people may have Covid-19 without displaying symptoms and the government says asymptomatic testing is an important means to find cases to keep the virus from spreading as lockdown restrictions eased.
“We want to make it as easy as possible for people to access tests and we particularly want to support people who volunteer or are unable to work from home to get regularly tested,” Minister for Health and Social Services, Vaughan Gething said.
“As we continue to ease restrictions routine testing of asymptomatic people will be an additional tool to help tackle the spread of the virus and keep Wales safe.”
Two packs of the self-test kits will be made available for home use, with the government recommending tests are undertaken twice a week with every result recorded on the UK government portal.
New restrictions introduced to curb Snowdonia parking chaos
Snowdonia National Park Authority is introducing new parking restrictions in an effort to reduce the traffic problems that blighted the area last summer.
Hundreds of people were fined for dangerous parking as visitors flooded the national park last year as lockdown restrictions were lifted.
People will now have to pre-book to park to walk up the mountain to ease congestion, following a successful pilot scheme that was trialled last year.
The pre-booking system is in place in Pen y Pass and will be in operation all summer. The cost of parking will also increase.
Angela Jones, of the national park authority, told BBC Wales: “You have to book at least a day before you intend to travel, so you can’t book within the 24 hours before you want to come here.
“We want people to think what they’re going to do here in Snowdonia before they come, where they’re going to park, where they’ll stay and what they’re going to see.”
Tories pledge to create 150,000 new apprenticeships
The Welsh Conservatives have announced plans to deliver 150,000 new apprenticeships in the next Senedd.
Declaring the coronavirus pandemic is “now over” the party’s economy spokesman, Russell George says Wales’ economic recovery “will now take centre stage”.
The Tories have promised to invest £2 billion in major infrastructure projects in the manifesto for next month’s election, including the M4 relief road around Newport, upgrades to the A55 and A40, and 20,000 green charging points.
“Welsh Conservatives will require significant numbers of new apprentices for our big new infrastructure projects – new hospitals, new roads and other major transport projects – and we want these to be built with pride by a new generation of Welsh workers,” Mr George said.
“Whatever age you are, nothing is more Conservative than working hard to improve your lot – and nothing is more important for the Welsh Conservatives than supporting people in those efforts.
“There is a big job of work to do to level up the skills of our entire nation – not just to improve Wales’ productivity but to enable people to fulfil their potential.
“Our plans for education and skills will mean more children will leave school better equipped for working life and have the opportunity to access a high quality apprenticeship.
“Labour have admitted they don’t know what they’re doing on the economy, and as we move out of the pandemic, only the Welsh Conservatives have a plan to build a better Wales with more jobs.”
In December Economy Minister Ken Skates confirmed the government had achieved its target of creating 100,000 apprenticeships during the last Senedd term and announced new employer incentives to help recruit apprentices to support businesses and workers in recovering from the economic impacts of coronavirus and respond to the effects of the UK leaving the EU.