News in brief: Minister confirms over 250 Covid-19 deaths in Wales this month
Health Minister Vaughan Gething has confirmed more than 250 people have died in Wales due to Covid-19 over the first two weeks of November.
Speaking at Monday’s government press briefing he also highlighted the significantly higher mortality rate of the virus compared to seasonal influenza.
Reflecting on the recent death toll, as the latest figures from Public Health Wales calculate the current daily average number of deaths at 22, Mr Gething said: “There was a large peak in the first wave and it would appear we are now heading towards another, large peak this winter.
“This underlines why we introduced the firebreak.
“This is a very sobering number. But of course, these are not just numbers – these are people who leave behind lives and loved ones.
“There will be more than 250 families across Wales who are mourning their loss.”
“I hope these figures help explain why we are taking coronavirus so seriously and why we – like governments around the world – are taking action to protect people’s health.
Citing research by Imperial College London that suggests an overall mortality rate for coronavirus of 1.15 compared to around 0.1%, according to figures from the World Health Organisation, he added: “The World Health Organisation’s figures suggest 15% of people who are infected with coronavirus will develop a severe illness, which requires oxygen therapy and 5% of people will become critically ill.
“This is higher than that seen for flu.
“And sadly, the death rate from coronavirus appears to be higher than flu.”
The Minister also confirmed he “doesn’t plan” to make Covid vaccines mandatory in Wales, when they become available.
“This is really about wanting to have safe and effective vaccines that are available for the public”, he said.
“I do not expect and I do not plan to try and mandate those.”
“I’m interested in people understanding the evidence for the safety of the vaccine, then making the right choice to protect them, their family and their community.”
Today’s coronavirus update from Public Health Wales has confirmed two further deaths and 892 new cases across the country.
The deaths were in the Aneurin Bevan and Hywel Dda health board areas.
Overall, 2,209 people have died in Wales since the start of the pandemic.
Cardiff (118) recorded the highest number of new cases, followed by Rhondda Cynon Taf (93) and Swansea (86).
Blaenau Gwent now has the highest infection rate in the country at 303.5 per 100,000 people, followed by Merthyr Tydfil at 303.4 and Rhondda Cynon Taf at 259.1.
Just over a week ago the rate in Merthyr Merthyr was 770, the highest in the UK.
Neath Port Talbot has recorded 420 new case in the last seven days and has the highest proportion of positive tests in Wales at 21.1% per 100,000 tests.
Devolved nations call for UK-wide strategy to help those in need.
Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government Hannah Blythyn has joined Ministers from Scotland and Northern Ireland in writing to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Thérèse Coffey, asking the UK Government to work with the devolved nations to develop a joint strategy to ensure those in need get the support they are entitled to.
The Department for Work and Pensions currently has no published approach to promoting UK benefits or supporting people to access the money which they are due.
The devolved governments have also called on the UK Government to make permanent the current £20 a week increase for Universal Credit (UC) and extend it to the benefits which will eventually be replaced by UC, such as Income Based Jobseekers Allowance.
The increase was introduced to help low-income families cope with the extra cost of the COVID-19 outbreak and is due to come to an end in April 2021.
Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government, Hannah Blythyn said: “It is vital people are aware of what they are entitled to. The pandemic will cast a long shadow on those who are most in need and has reiterated the importance of a robust financial safety net for individuals and families and ensuring existing funding programmes have the maximum impact on the lives of those living in poverty. By having a strategic UK approach, will ensure that everyone can get the support they need during this difficult time.
“We have set out actions Welsh Government will take to maximise the incomes of families living in poverty and support them to build their financial resilience. We have made it easier for people to apply for emergency payments through our Discretionary Assistance Fund and have increased the amount of money in this fund by almost £9m. However, we recognise the key levers for tackling poverty sit with the UK Government – tax and welfare are key to improving outcomes for low income families.
“We will continue to lobby the UK Government to maintain the £20 weekly payment for low income households on Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit. The planned withdrawal of this payment next April could plunge many thousands more households into poverty”.
Scottish Government’s Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “It’s vital that we make every effort to ensure everyone is aware of and able to access the support available to them.
“Maximising benefit take-up is a moral obligation. Especially in these uncertain times when there is clear evidence of increased need for support.”
Shadow minister slams family holiday ban
Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Tourism, Darren Millar MS, is calling on the Welsh Government to scrap restrictions that prevent people from extended households going on holiday together in Wales.
Currently, two households in Wales can join together, visit and stay overnight in one another’s homes but Welsh Government rules say they can’t go on holiday together and share accommodation.
A response to a Written Question in the Senedd, the government said that holiday accommodation providers would “not have the ability to verify who is in an extended household with each other.”
Describing the ban as ridiculous, Mr Millar, said: “ The tourism industry in Wales has been hit for six as a result of the Welsh Government’s coronavirus rules with many parts of the country having faced weeks of local travel restrictions on top of those imposed by the recent firebreak lockdown.
“This latest rule adds insult to injury and suggests that the Welsh Government simply doesn’t trust tourism operators or their customers to abide by the rules.
“Most people in Wales will think that it is ridiculous that you can stay overnight in someone’s home, yet you can’t stay overnight in holiday accommodation with them.
“Many people have planned a hard earned a break with their loved ones from the stress of the pandemic and our holiday accommodation providers stand ready to welcome them, but the Welsh Government’s rules are standing in their way.
“Ministers must scrap this ridiculous holiday restriction and give the Welsh tourism industry the fighting chance it needs to bounce back from the pandemic.”
Record numbers of GPs training in Wales
GP recruitment figures in Wales have reached records numbers for the third year running, with 200 new GP trainees recruited this year, a 7% increase from last year’s figure of 186.
200 new recruits is a substantial increase from the original target of 136 but also the increased allocation agreed last year of 160 training places.
The trainees have been recruited by Health Education and Improvement Wales (HEIW), who over the last few years has established a number of initiatives to promote Wales as a great place to train and work, supported by the Train Work Live campaign, which launched in 2016.
The campaign includes two financial incentive schemes: a targeted scheme offering a £20,000 incentive to GP trainees taking up posts in specified areas with a trend of low recruitment rates, and a universal scheme offering a one off payment for all GP trainees to cover the cost of one sitting of their final examinations. The work HEIW has undertaken includes increased attendance at careers events for Foundation Trainees and Medical students and a re-designed GP Trainer Course.
Minister for Health and Social Services, Vaughan Gething said: “Recruiting 200 new GP trainees is fantastic news in any year, but this year more than any other has highlighted the vital care the NHS and Social Care workforce provides to us and how much we rely on them.”