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News in brief: Health chief warns of pandemic uncertainty as coronavirus case rates continue to rise

31 Aug 2021 7 minutes Read
Dr Frank Atherton. Photo by Life Sciences Hub Wales Via YouTube

Wales’ Chief Medical Officer warned of “considerable uncertainty” over the trajectory of the Covid pandemic in his advice to First Minister Mark Drakeford prior to the government’s latest 21-day review of Covid-19 restrictions last week.

Mr Drakeford announced a small number of amendments designed to help simplify and clarify existing rules following the latest review and highlighted the recent surge in coronavirus cases in Wales, describing the public health position as “worse than it was three weeks ago, when we moved into Alert Level Zero.”

In his written advice to Mr Drakeford, Doctor Frank Atherton said: “Community transmission of Covid-19 in Wales appears to be increasing and is likely to increase further when school and university teaching resumes.

“The high vaccination rates have contributed to weakening the link between recorded infections and the serious effects of the disease, as evinced by comparatively low numbers of people admitted daily to hospital with suspected or confirmed Covid-19.

“However, there remains considerable uncertainty for the months ahead. The impact of relaxations during the summer, with increased social mixing at Alert level 0, are reflected in rising numbers of cases and test positivity in all areas of Wales, albeit at a slower pace compared to previous waves.

‘Pressures’

“We must continue to monitor the position very closely, not least given the broader pressures currently being experienced across the health and care system,” he added.

“Vaccination is one of the most effective ways we can protect our families, communities and ourselves against Covid-19. The vaccination programme is now focused on boosting take up of first and second doses for all adults and encouraging younger cohorts to come forward. In addition NHW Wales has begun vaccinating children aged 12-17 who are deemed clinically at risk, and planning continues for an autumn booster programme.

“Influenza vaccination is also an important priority to reduce morbidity and mortality associated with influenza and to reduce hospitalisations when the NHS and social care system may be managing winter outbreaks of Covid-19.

“Now is not the time to be complacent. The virus is still circulating and there is always a risk of new variants emerging.  It is incumbent on all of us to practice the healthy behaviours which limit the spread of Covid-19.”

Covid test. Photo by analogicus from Pixabay

Over 12,000 new Covid cases confirmed over the first part of the holiday weekend 

Public Health Wales has confirmed one further death due to Covid and 3,872 new cases of the virus in the 48 hours up to Sunday morning at 9am.

Over the last week 12,190 people in Wales have tested positive for the virus, the highest number recorded since over 14,000 new cases were confirmed over the week ending 3 January, at the height of the pandemic’s second wave.

The newly recorded death was in the Betsi Cadwaladr health board area and takes the total number of deaths since the start of the pandemic to 5,672.

Over 500 hundred new infections were reported in Swansea, currently the local authority with the highest seven-day case rate in Wales at 638.1 per 100,000 people, an increase of 94.4 since Friday.

The positivity rate has also jumped from 22.5% per 100,000 tests on Friday to 24.7% per 100,000 tests.

The national case rate is up 31.6 points to 386.6, also the highest seen since the week of 3 January, and the test rate is up from 18% to 18.7%.

A Wales and Europe flag. Picture by Ilovetheeu (CC 4.0)

Support for EU citizens seeking to settle in Wales extended until end of 2021

EU citizens in Wales will still be able to access free and confidential support for their EU Settlement Scheme applications despite the programme closing in June, according to the Welsh Government.

The Home Office’s EU Settlement Scheme, known as EUSS, offered EU, non-EU EEA and Swiss citizens, and their eligible family members the opportunity to protect their residency following the UK’s departure from the European Union in January.

The Home Office are continuing to process late applications with reasonable grounds and Minister for Social Justice, Jane Hutt confirmed today that access for EU citizens in Wales to free support from specialist law firm Newfields Law will continue until the end of 2021.

In addition, confidential support from Citizens Advice Cymru and charity Settled, which the Welsh Government has funded since 2019, also remain available.

“Wales remains committed to ensuring our very valued EU citizens can secure the status they need to remain in the UK legally,” the minister said.

“I am glad we can continue to provide a range of free, confidential support to reassure Wales’ EU citizens that they are welcome here and we are doing what we can to guarantee they can remain, without worry.”

The Home Office initially anticipated up to 70,000 EU nationals living in Wales who would need to apply to the Settlement Scheme, however Local Authority data estimated the number eligible was closer to 95,000.

The most recent figures released by the Home Office

Aerial view of the new Sands of Speed Museum and 42-bed hostel , taken in 2020. Photo by Carmarthenshire Council

Council considers options to resume work on major building projects

Richard Youle, local democracy reporter

Work on stalled tourism and housing projects worth nearly £14 million will restart as quickly as possible, despite the collapse into administration of the main contractor responsible for the schemes, Carmarthenshire Council has said.

The council-led Pendine Attractor Project, featuring a seafront museum and hostel, and a council housing scheme at the Dylan estate, Llanelli, were being delivered by WRW Construction Ltd.

The company, with headquarters in Llanelli, said early last month that it had ceased trading after coming under “significant financial stress”.

The council said it was sorry to hear the news and that it would support sub-contractors at both sites. Additional costs and delays were, it said, inevitable.

Asked for an update by the Local Democracy Reporter Service, a council spokeswoman said: “Work will be recommencing on both Pendine and Dylan projects as soon as possible.”

She said the authority had considered various options and had decided to appoint new contractors via a South West Wales public sector contracting framework, which includes local and national firms.

The £5.9 million Dylan housing scheme in Llanelli’s Bynea ward will comprise 28 houses and four bungalows. A new children’s play area as part of the scheme has already opened.

The £7.6 million Pendine Attractor Project will comprise a Sands of Speed Museum, replacing the Museum of Speed, plus a 42-bed hostel, play area, car park and area for 10 motorhomes.

Work got under way in 2019, and the aim was to complete the scheme in spring this year.

Alison Moody, of Chad ‘n’ Olly’s Beach Hut, on Pendine seafront, said visitors still came down looking for the old Museum of Speed, which was demolished to make way for the new one.

She said the hostel and museum buildings were up, but wasn’t sure of if they were watertight yet.

“It will be great when the new one (museum) opens,” she said. “It’s a difficult time to build anything.”

She added that she had seen workmen on site over the last couple of days.

WRW Construction’s difficulties were revealed early in July, when the company said it had no viable option except to move into administration.

A company spokesman said at the time: “Despite a significant order book of over £60 million to be delivered within the upcoming 12 months, a supportive lender, fantastic staff and prospects, regrettably, owing to a series of events the last week, including an unfavourable adjudication outcome, the business was put under significant financial stress.”

Grant Thornton UK has been appointed as administrators.

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