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News in brief: Inspectors set to visit controversial asylum camp next week

12 Feb 2021 7 minute read
Penally asylum camp. Photo via Google

The UK Government has confirmed that inspectors will visit the Penally asylum camp in Pembrokeshire next week.

First Minister Mark Drakeford wrote to the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration on 19 January to call for an urgent inspection of the former army camp.

Just over 120 men are currently housed at the site which was repurposed by the Home Office last September, without any consultation with the Welsh government or local authority.

Welsh ministers say the site is unsuitable and have called on the UK Government to close the camp and move asylum seekers to alternative accommodation which can properly cater for their needs.

Inspectors from both ICIBI and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons will carry out the inspection, which will include:

  • Interviews with accommodation service provider staff and any other persons providing onsite services to the residents.
  • Interviews with residents.
  • A review of relevant locally held documentary evidence (e.g. local rules, information, risk assessments, complaints logs, etc.)
  • An assessment of the premises and onsite facilities
  • A number of separate short surveys of staff and residents (distributed in advance of the visits).

In a statement confirming the visit, the UK governments says:” HMIP’s involvement will enable ICIBI’s inspection to progress at pace, without having to divert resources from other ‘live’ inspections, and it will also mean that ICIBI can benefit from HMIP’s knowledge and experience of inspecting large institutional settings, particularly during the current pandemic.”

Following the site visits, HMIP will produce a written report of its findings which will be appended to ICIBI’s inspection report for publication by the Home Secretary.

Yesterday the Home Office revealed it is planning to seek a further six months consent to enable it to use the camp to house asylum seekers up to October at least.

UK Immigration minister Chris Philp had said in January that the government intended to move all the residents of the camp into ‘suitable dispersed accommodation as soon as reasonably practical’.

A statement from Pembrokeshire County Council described the news as “unsettling” and reiterated its view that the site is unsuitable:

“We are disappointed that the Home Office have only now made their intent clear. It is of concern that they have not been able to submit a planning application within the required timescale.

“The council has always challenged the Home Office as to the suitability of the accommodation. We have also always tried to work with key bodies involved to ensure those in the camp and the surrounding community are kept safe, treated with dignity.

“We acknowledge this latest update is unsettling and we will continue to work to ensure community cohesion can be restored following this disruptive decision.”.

Covid testing swab. Picture by the Welsh Government

Covid rates across all variants falling in Wales

Covid-19 Infection rates across all variants are declining in Wales according to the latest figures released by the Office for National statistics.

For the week ending 6 February the study estimates that 35,300 people in Wales had Covid-19, equating to around 1 in 85 people, the second lowest in the UK after Scotland where 35,400 people or 1 in 150 had Covid.

Over the previous week 42,700 people in Wales were estimated to have the virus, 1 in 70 of the population.

In England, 695,400 people within the community population had the virus in the most recent study (1 in 80 people) and in Northern Ireland 24,400 people tested positive, around 1 in 75 people.

Last week the Welsh Government’s Technical Advisory Cell had expressed concern over the progress of new variants in Wales and noted that while cases overall had slowed the new Kent variant was growing rapidly and accounted of over 70% of new cases.

The South African variant, which has resistance to some of the vaccines currently being deployed, is also being closely monitored but the number of cases in Wales appears to have remained static at about 13.

Meanwhile, a further 25 people have died due to the virus and 608 new cases have been reported in the latest update from Public Health Wales.

Of the newly reported deaths, seven were in the Hywel Dda health board area. Betsi Cadwaladr recorded six and there were five new deaths in Cardiff and Vale. Three people died in the Swansea Bay area, two in Cwm Taf Morgannwg and one death was reported in both Aneurin Bevin and Powys.

Over 31,000 people received a first dose of vaccine yesterday, taking the total to 715,944.

Cardiff (101) had the highest number of new positive tests yesterday, followed by Rhondda Cynon Taf (58) and Swansea (43).

Wrexham has the highest weekly case rate at 199.3 per 100,000 people. Down from 206.7. It also has the highest positive test proportion at 13.3% per 100,000 tests, down from 13.8% yesterday

Across Wales the case rate has dropped from 107.4 yesterday to 102.3 and the weekly positive test rate is down from 9.1% to 8.7.

Keith Evans / School sign / CC BY-SA 2.0

North Wales councils steps up moves to reopen schools

Gareth Williams, local democracy reporter

Education chiefs on Anglesey have earmarked February 25 to start the process of re-opening schools to some pupils.

With Gwynedd Council also in talks over a planned reopening that week, it follows a Welsh Government announcement that children aged three to seven would be free to return after the February half-term.

The move marks a partial return of face-to-face primary teaching following several weeks of lockdown and distanced learning.

The leader of Anglesey Council recently announced they would not re-open schools until it was felt safe to do so, following stubbornly high transmission rates on the island.

But today the authority revealed that while any plans are subject to change, a phased return of foundation phase pupils is currently pencilled in from Thursday, February 25.

With  the aim being for all Foundation Phase pupils to be back in their classrooms by Wednesday, March 3rd “at the latest”, distance learning will continue until children are back in school.

Blamed on “creeping complacency” in both the workplace and social interaction, Ynys Môn bucked the Welsh trend in being the only county to show an actual increase in cases during the last week of January, leading to council chiefs issuing a plea on residents to respond to the “extremely concerning” situation.

Seven day Covid-19 case rates, up to January 30, fell in every Welsh council area apart from Anglesey, where the rate of new cases per 100,000 people rose from 139.9 to 141.3.

Ranking as the third highest in Wales, behind Wrexham and Flintshire, latest figures show 171.3 people per 100,000 population testing positive for the virus in the seven days up to February 6.

A spokesman added, “More and more positive Coronavirus cases on Anglesey have been linked to transmission in-between homes in recent weeks. Much of this had been caused by family or friends visiting each other socially.

 “It is also vital that children avoid mixing with other children outside their household or support bubble.

“This applies to under 11s as well as over 11s, and where children are in the same ‘school or class bubble’.

“Given the current high number of coronavirus cases on the Island, Anglesey Council has made it clear that it will take all reasonable steps to protect the health of pupils and school staff.

 “The arrangements noted above are therefore still under review and subject to change.

“Schools will provide further details and confirm any specific arrangements in due course.

“In the meantime, all schools will continue to provide distance learning to all learners.”

Neighbouring Gwynedd Council, meanwhile, says that talks are ongoing with schools on the phased opening during that week.

A spokesman for the authority said, “Gwynedd’s Education Authority has met with headteachers this week to ensure they are fully aware of the latest development and our officers continue to offer help and advice regarding the planned phased opening for foundation phase pupils during the week beginning 22 February.

“We will continue to monitor the situation during that period, as we await further guidance from the Welsh Government in the days ahead.”

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