News in brief: Minister defends speed of Covid vaccine rollout in Wales
Health Minister Vaughan Gething has rejected criticism of the Covid vaccine rollout in Wales, as new figures have revealed the proportion of people that have received the injection so far is the lowest in the UK.
Figures released yesterday show that from the 20th December to the 27th December, 12,433 people in Wales received the vaccine, taking the total since the programme started in mid-December to 35,335, 1.12% of the Welsh population. Scotland has vaccinated 1.7% of the population, followed by 1.6% in Northern Ireland and 1.4% in England.
Following the release of the statistics, Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Minister, Andrew RT Davies MS, said: “There are 3 million people in Wales, the Welsh Government needs to step-up and take some leadership in ensuring that the vaccine gets out quicker, with the UK Government aiming for 2 million vaccinations a week, Wales needs to be doing 100,000 vaccines a week. A target we’re a long way off.
“With the Oxford vaccine on its way Wales needs to be prepared and ready to roll out a first-class vaccination programme to ensure we don’t fall behind any further. At the current levels we’ll still be vaccinating in years to come.”
Responding to Mr Davies comments, the minister said: “Whilst I recognise the data indicates there are other nations ahead of us, the national data presented at this very early stage of the vaccination roll out should be considered provisional and a snapshot of ongoing activity.”
“Looking ahead, all health boards are preparing for significant expansion in capacity from the beginning of January”.
“Whilst the urgency and priority required is clear to all, we must also have some patience and allow the NHS to do what it does so well.
“My focus, and that of the NHS, is on delivering the vaccine programme quickly but also effectively, safely and equitably.”
Meanwhile, Public Health Wales has confirmed a further 70 people have died after contracting coronavirus in its first report of 2021.
There have also been 2,764 new positive tests for the virus.
Twenty-six of the deaths reported today were in the Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board area.
Aneurin Bevan, Cardiff and Vale, and Swansea Bay boards each reported 11 deaths and there were seven in Hywel Dda and four in Betsi Cadwaladr.
Since the start of the pandemic last March there have been 3,564 deaths due to Covid reported by PHW.
According to the latest figure from the Office for National Statistics the total number of deaths in Wales involving COVID-19 now stands at 4,479.
Deaths counted by the ONS are when COVID-19 is mentioned by doctors on the death certificate and which occur in all settings – including hospitals, care homes, hospices and people’s homes.
The daily figures released by Public Health Wales only include the deaths of a hospital patients or care home resident where COVID-19 has been confirmed with a positive laboratory test and the clinician suspects this was a causative factor in the death.
The ONS stats for the week ending 18 December also confirmed that the number of deaths involving COVID-19 in Wales increased from 223 deaths the previous week to 256 deaths, while the total number of deaths from all causes over the week was 164 deaths higher than the five-year average.
Deaths due to coronavirus accounted for 29% of all deaths in Wales during the week covered in the survey.
The number of deaths from all causes rose from 814 to 882 in the latest week covered by the report, which was 164 deaths (22.8%) higher than the five-year average for that week.
Nuclear plant rescue deadline extended
The UK Government has agreed to extend the planning deadline for a new nuclear power station on Anglesey.
Developers Horizon Nuclear requested the extension to enable talks to continue in an effort to save the project.
A US consortium is in talks with the British government about reviving the project to build a nuclear power plant at Wylfa on Anglesey.
The nuclear plant at Wylfa was tipped to bring hundreds of skilled long term jobs to Anglesey but has been in jeopardy since Hitachi pulled out of the £20 billion project in September.
In November the Financial Times newspaper reported that a consortium led by US engineering group Bechtel, were interested in reviving the plans.
Welsh Secretary Simon Hart said in September that he would be holding conversations with “other interested investors” over the Wylfa Newydd nuclear power plant site after Hitachi officially confirmed their withdrawal.
UK Business Secretary Alok Sharma has agreed to extend the development consent process until 30 April to enable talks to continue.
Welcoming the decision, a spokesman for Horizon Nuclear said: “Given these positive talks are still ongoing, another short deferral is in the best interests of the project and all those that would benefit from its successful delivery.”
Council warns of overspend if Covid losses not met by Welsh Government
Saul Cooke-Black, local democracy reporter
Monmouthshire council has warned it faces an overspend of more than £4.5 million if costs related to coronavirus are not covered by the Welsh Government.
The county council is urging the Welsh Government to confirm it will fully reimburse income losses related to Covid-19 for this financial year.
A report coming before the council’s cabinet notes a “worst case” forecast deficit of £6.43 million for this financial year.
This includes £5.91 million of costs related to Covid-19, although Welsh Government has since confirmed further funding of £1.78 million to cover income losses.
But the report says there is still a forecast deficit of £4.13 million related to coronavirus costs, as well as a further overspend of £518,000 related to other services.
It says “the key risk and uncertainty continues to be the amount of compensatory Welsh Government funding that the council will receive”.
“We are grateful to Welsh Government for the funding that has been provided to Welsh councils to cover costs to date and that we anticipate could potentially meet the income shortfalls forecast for the remainder of the year,” the report says.
“However, we urge Welsh Government to confirm full reimbursement of the £4.13 million Covid-related income losses and cost pressures as soon as possible and to eliminate financial risk going into the financial year-end.”
The council says it has faced “significant and unprecedented challenges” in 2020, with Storms Ciara and Dennis also hitting the county in February.
It is also facing costs related to an increase in the number of children coming into care and pressures in waste and recycling due to delays in implementing changes.
The authority’s commercial income has also taken a hit, with a forecast overspend of £193,000 related to Newport Leisure Park and Castlegate Business Park in Caldicot.
This is mainly due to a reduction in rental income of £265,000 at Newport Leisure Park – which it bought as a commercial investment for £21 million in 2019 – the report says.
The report says the council will need to “plan and plot a revised course to ensure it remains financially sustainable into the future” due to the challenges faced.
“Going forward more targeted and planned cost reductions will be challenging and the council will as always look to minimise impact on service delivery,” it says.
“Though this cannot be guaranteed and is expected if Welsh Government funding falls short of expectations.”
The council’s cabinet will consider the report at a meeting next Wednesday.