News in brief: Health chief warns ‘stay out of each other’s homes’ before Christmas

A family get-together at Christmas

A top health official has called for people to limit social interactions and to stay out of each other’s homes in the run up to Christmas.

Last month the Welsh, Scottish and UK Governments, and the Northern Ireland executive, agreed proposals to ease travel restrictions between 23-27 December and gave permission for up to three households to form an exclusive “bubble” for the holiday period.

With the infection rate surging across much of the country, Dr Robin Howe, Incident Director for the COVID-19 outbreak response at Public Health Wales, said: “If we are to have meaningful and safe interactions within the permitted exclusive Christmas ‘bubble’, then everyone should immediately start to limit their interactions with other as much as possible in the lead up to the festive period.

“This means staying out of other people’s homes, limiting the times and the numbers of people that you meet, maintaining social distancing and hand hygiene, working from home if you can, and self-isolating if you show symptoms of coronavirus or are asked to do so by contact tracers.

“As the number of cases continues to accelerate in Wales, we would also advise people to consider their plans for Christmas from the perspective of what they ‘should’ do, rather than what they ‘can’ do, in order to protect their families and communities.

“The festive period is important for people across Wales who want to be with loved ones during the holidays, particularly after a very difficult year, but we would remind everyone that we must each continue to take personal responsibility to limit the spread of the virus and protect our loved ones, particularly if they are vulnerable or extremely vulnerable.  For many, this will mean that it isn’t possible to celebrate Christmas in the way you normally would.”

Today’s figures from Public Health Wales have confirmed a further 31 people have died with coronavirus since yesterday and there have been 2,494 new positive tests for the virus.

Over the last seven days 13,562 new cases have been recorded in Wales as the national weekly infection rate has climbed to 430.1 per 100,000 of the population.

Today’s new cases takes the total number of people with the virus in Wales since the start of the pandemic to over 100,000

The highest number of new cases was in Cardiff (327) followed by Swansea (324) and Rhondda Cynon Taf (251).

Merthyr Tydfil has the highest weekly infection rate at 808.9 cases per 100,000 of the population, and the highest proportion of positive tests at 29.3% per 100,000 tests.

Photo by ksbuehler is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Minister announces temporary halt to serving of eviction notices

The Welsh Government has announced a temporary halt to the serving of eviction notices due to the surge in COVID-19 cases across the country in recent weeks.

Emergency laws were introduced in Wales in the summer to protect tenants from eviction for a temporary period.

From 29 September most tenants in Wales have been entitled to 6 months’ notice before their landlord can start court action to evict them.

Under the new regulations announced by Julie James, Minister for Housing and Local Government, except in specified circumstances, attending properties to execute a writ or warrant of possession, executing a writ or warrant of restitution or delivering a notice of eviction are suspended until 11 January 2021.

Eviction notices can still be served where the court is satisfied that the claim is against trespassers or where it was made “wholly or partly on the grounds of anti-social behaviour, serious offences, nuisance, domestic violence or, in cases where the person attending is satisfied that the dwelling-house is unoccupied at the time of attendance.”

The Minister said in a written statement: “The purpose of the Regulations is to ensure that during the Christmas and mid-winter period, evictions are kept as low as possible. With access to services and alternative accommodation often limited during this time, there is a heightened risk that evictions will lead to homelessness, which in turn increases the risk of transmission of the virus. “

In August Shelter Cymru warned that over 15,000 private tenants were facing eviction in Wales.

Fishguard Harbour. Photo by interbeat is licensed under CC BY 2.0

New information and advice centre opens to help hauliers in Brexit transition

A new information and advice site which prepares hauliers for the end of the transition period with the EU has opened at Pont Abraham services in Carmarthenshire, serving hauliers bound for Fishguard and Pembroke Dock.

The Information site will enable hauliers to discuss with trained staff the new customs procedures changes coming into effect at the end of the transition period, and what they mean for them.

This joint initiative between the Welsh Government and the Department of Transport offers access to information during a period of substantial change and uncertainty.

From January, the sites will also enable Hauliers to test whether they have completed relevant paperwork, thereby reducing the risk of being turned away at the port.

The UK Government’s Department for Transport previously announced 45 haulier information sites across the UK, including one in Wales to serve Holyhead.

Ken Skates, Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales, said: “In 2019 Ireland was the UK’s 5th largest export market and the 9th largest source of imports. Traders located along the southern corridors will utilise the flow between South West Wales and Rosslare, and it is therefore important to offer them a point of information close to the ports.”

Picture by Dan Cook (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Road plans threaten ancient woodland

Alex Seabrook, local democracy reporter

The Woodland Trust has warned ancient woodland is under threat in a plan to build a road in the Vale of Glamorgan.

The Vale council is proposing building a road linking the A48 at Sycamore Cross with junction 34 of the M4, to ease congestion and help access Cardiff Airport.

Campaigners have previously slammed the plans for potentially knocking down 10 houses in the village of Pendoylan and blocking key routes east-to-west for cyclists on country lanes.

Now Coed Cadw, the Woodland Trust in Wales, has criticised the proposals for the threat of damaging and destroying at least six ancient woodlands — more than four centuries old.

Natalie Buttriss, director of Wales at Coed Cadw, said: “At a time of climate and ecological emergency, we need to help our ancient woods and trees to thrive, not bulldoze them for new road schemes.

“Damaging these centuries-old habitats cannot be the only option. The council must find another way.”

The ancient woodlands under threat, according to Coed Cadw, includes: Log Wood, Coed Llwynhywel, Coed Waunn-lloff, and Coed Ffos-ceibr. In these woods live Barbastelle and Bechstein’s bat, and rare birds like lesser redpoll, lesser spotted woodpecker and woodcock.

Ms Buttriss said: “The council is offering the public a say by consulting on these routes, but the only available options ask us to choose which ancient woods to ruin and to what extent.

“The council should be seeking to conserve and enhance the biodiversity of the Vale. It should not be proposing destructive schemes where local people are asked to choose which precious ancient woods should be destroyed.

“Saving irreplaceable habitats is vital for people and wildlife — especially so if they could be harmed for a road that may not be needed.

“We are asking the public to tell the Vale of Glamorgan council that destroying and fragmenting ancient woodland is not a sustainable solution.”

The Vale council is currently consulting the public on the proposals. The consultation runs until December 23, after which the council will consider what to do next — potentially drawing up a full business case for the new road.

Coed Cadw is encouraging people to register their concerns about the loss of ancient woodland on their website.

A spokesman for the Vale of Glamorgan council said: “No decisions have been made on this matter, which is currently the subject of public consultation.

“Early in the new year, a consultation report will be presented to cabinet and a decision taken on next steps. We encourage as many people as possible to respond to the consultation.”

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