News in brief: Minister denies Covid vaccine is being ‘held back’ in Wales
Education Minister Kirsty Williams has denied the Welsh Government is “holding back” doses of coronavirus vaccine.
The government has come under fire following comments made by First Minister Mark Drakeford on BBC Radio 4’s Today show this morning.
Mr Drakeford said that the supply, delivered by the UK Government, was limited and that the sensible thing was to use up the vaccine stock they had over the period that they had it.
“There would be no point and certainly it would be logistically damaging to use up all our vaccines in the first week and have our vaccinators standing around with nothing to do,” he added.
Speaking at today’s press briefing Ms Williams claimed vaccines were being distributed “in a careful way” to maintain efficiency and minimise wastage.
“We are not holding back on any supplies of the Pfizer vaccine or the Oxford-AstraZenica vaccine.
“We are distributing Pfizer in a careful way to ensure there is infrastructure in Wales to deliver it safely and most efficiently, avoiding wastage because it is such a precious resource,” she said.
“All of our vaccinators who are working in our vaccination centres, increasingly working out of GP surgeries and other aspects of primary care, are working flat out, as is the Welsh Government, to speed up the vaccination programme,” the minister added.
Plaid Cymru Leader Adam Price Adam Price MS said “saving lives is more important than saving stocks” following the first minister’s comment.
“Vaccinating people as fast as possible is more important than keeping vaccinators occupied,” he added.
Conservative leader in the Senedd, Paul Davies, called the comments “preposterous”, adding people were “infuriated” by the situation.
“My inbox has been bombarded by people who are very very angry because suggesting that holding back the vaccine for a period of time so vaccinators aren’t standing around doing nothing is absolutely preposterous”.
Health official calls for vigilance despite fall in infection rates
Dr Giri Shankar, Incident Director for the coronavirus outbreak response at Public Health Wales, has called for people to “remain vigilant” despite the recent slowing of infection rates.
“While there has been a reduction in the numbers of positive Coronavirus cases in several parts of Wales, this data needs to be verified over several days before we can be sure that it is showing an established downward trend,” Dr Shankar said.
“Despite this, the number of cases remains extremely high in Wales and is cause for serious concern, due to the impact on NHS Wales services and the prevalence of the new, more infectious variant.
“In order to avoid adding to the current severe pressure on hospitals, it is extremely important that everyone continues to remain vigilant, by staying at home and sticking to the rules.”
Today’s figures from PHW have confirmed 20 further deaths due to the virus and 1,332 new cases since yesterday’s report.
Of the newly reported deaths, 10 were in the Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board area. There have been six in Aneurin Bevan, three in Hywel Dda and one in Swansea Bay health board.
The total number of people vaccinated in Wales since the second week of December now stands at 151,737.
Cardiff (150) had the highest number of new cases, followed by Wrexham (135) and Newport (103).
The weekly case rate in Wrexham is the highest in Wales at 792.2 per 100,000 people but was over 900 last week.
Meanwhile, new figures from the Office for National Statistics have confirmed that Covid-19 was the leading cause of death in Wales last month.
Overall, the virus accounted for 27.4% of all registered deaths for December, as the mortality rate rose for the third month in a row.
The rate of 374.4 deaths per 100,000 people was the highest since the first peak of the pandemic in April.
The provisional number of deaths from all causes registered in December in Wales was 3,941 – 1,075 more than the five-year average for the month.
Tories renew calls for refund of university fees
The Welsh Conservatives have renewed calls for university fees to be reduced following the government’s announcement this morning of new support for struggling students.
An additional £40m is being made available to help universities to support students facing financial hardship with expenses such as accommodation costs.
Universities will be asked to prioritise funding towards the most vulnerable students in Wales, as well as strengthening advice and support services for students.
With most students currently being asked to study at home, the funding will also be used to address ‘digital poverty’ among students, to enable better access to online learning, and costs incurred due to the need to self-isolate.
Suzy Davies MS, the Shadow Minister for Education said: “Whilst I welcome this funding it needs to be ringfenced for students who are going through hardship now.
“However, university students have been paying for their courses but not receiving the full education that they expected. Online learning cannot replace in-person teaching, with students unable to use the full resources that a university offers. The Welsh Government needs to ensure that universities can offer a partial refund for the current academic year, as well as ensuring that students can afford to continue to afford their courses in September.
“Many students will have worked hard in school to gain their university place, and in part time jobs so that they can afford it. It is only right that they are supported and compensated for the loss of learning this year.”
Plaid Cymru Shadow Minister for Post-16 Education, Bethan Sayed MS also welcomed today’s announcement but called for more details from the government: “I welcome the announcement of extra funding for students – I myself called for rent rebates for students last week in the Senedd, as well as further support for students.
“I would expect some clarity from the Welsh Government however on the small print of this support, and who is eligible to receive funds, and ensure that those who are in private rented accommodation can be supported also.”