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News in brief: Minister dismisses concerns over Merthyr testing queues

23 Nov 2020 5 minutes Read
Vaughan Gething speaking and todays’ Coronavirus briefing.

Health Minister Vaughan Gething has dismissed worries that people queuing for Covid-19 tests in Merthyr Tydfil over the weekend could have been spreading the virus.

Over 2,000 people were tested for Covid over the opening two days of the first mass testing programme in Wales and according to the minister initial results suggested about 1% of those tested positive for the virus.

Speaking at Monday’s government press briefing, Mr Gething said the large queues of people waiting for tests were “taken account of in the planning” and said people with symptoms of coronavirus were being directed to a separate mobile testing unit.

“If people arrive and they have symptoms then there’s a mobile testing unit for symptomatic individuals and people are being diverted away from those queues if they’ve actually got symptoms,” he said.

“So we’re asking people to be responsible when they arrive and to follow the guidance about social distancing, and for symptomatic people to identify themselves, and they’ll be sent off and tested somewhere else.”

He added: “Ultimately we’ve managed to identify some people who didn’t have symptoms already from the first 2,000 tests or so.”

A further nine people have died due to coronavirus in the last 24 hours and 892 people tested positive for the virus, according to the latest figures from Public Health Wales.

Of the new deaths, four were in the Hywel Dda health board area, three were reported by Aneurin Bevan and two were in Powys.

The highest number of new cases was in Rhondda Cynon Taf (112) followed by Cardiff (96) Caerphilly (80).

Blaenau Gwent has the highest weekly infection rate in the country at 416.8 per 100,000 people and Neath Port Talbot reports the highest positive test rate over the week at 17.9% per 100,000 tests.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak. Picture by the Policy Exchange (CC BY 2.0).

Calls for UK Government to ‘stand by’ frontline workers 

The Welsh Government is urging Chancellor Rishi Sunak to rule out a public sector pay freeze and deliver the funding Wales needs to protect health and jobs, ahead of Wednesday’s UK Government Spending Review.

Reports that Mr Sunak would freeze wages for public sector staff were met with fierce criticism from unions and workers, although NHS frontline staff are likely to be excluded from such a move and the government says it will keep to past promises when allocating funds for policing, nurses and schools.

Finance Minister, Rebecca Evans called on the Chancellor to use the UK Treasury’s levers to stand by the frontline workers who have sacrificed so much this year and in a letter to Mr Sunak also called for urgent commitments for Wales on:

  • long term funding to deliver certainty for Welsh communities affected by intense storms and coal tip safety issues
  • delivering post EU-funding guarantees
  • budgetary flexibilities to ensure existing funding can be targeted where it is needed, when it is needed

“We are facing an unprecedented set of challenges, with the damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic, compounded by the uncertainty around the end of the EU transition period.

“With the economic recovery hanging in the balance, we need a firm commitment that Wales will receive adequate funding to address these challenges and to support a fair recovery,” Ms Evans said.

Picture by Irene Marie Dorey. (CC0 Public Domain)

£3 million pilot scheme will allow visits to care home residents over Christmas

Temporary ‘visitor pods’ are being provided to care homes across Wales to allow visits to residents over Christmas and the remaining winter months.

The £3 million pilot scheme will cover the procurement, installation and lease of 100 units, with an initial 30 being installed and ready to use before the Christmas holidays.

The semi-permanent units will be available for a period of 6 months, whilst other longer-term solutions are explored.

Visiting restrictions for care homes were eased as wider lockdown restrictions were lifted in the summer, and again following the fire-break lockdown earlier this month.

Health Minister Vaughan Gething said: “We all know how difficult recent months have been for people living in care homes and their loved ones, however ensuring the safety of our most vulnerable has always been paramount.

“We recognise both the distress and sadness that has been experienced since March, but also the desire from care homes to facilitate visits before and during Christmas as well as throughout the winter. Having engaged with key stakeholders, we are confident these units are a way to enable meaningful visits to take place.

The pilot scheme will help us to understand whether visiting pods are an effective and practical way of supporting meaningful visits. We will use this learning to determine whether we should consider commissioning a bespoke Wales-based solution in future if the course of the pandemic means this is required. Shadow Health Minister comments on ‘temporary’ visitor pods for care home residents

Welcoming the initiative, Andrew RT Davies, Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Minister, said: “Care-home residents and their families have suffered doubly during this pandemic, with high rates of death of people with Covid, and from separation, in some cases for eight months, from their families.

“This isolation has led to or worsened feelings of confusion and depression, and I hope that these pods will alleviate some of that before a return to real and meaningful contact – sitting down for a cuppa with your dad or mum, and being able to give them a hug for example – can take place.”

“On the face of it, I welcome any measures taken to alleviate the distress many in care homes have had by not being able to see their loved ones in a safe environment. However, the trouble with ‘temporary’ measures is that they often become permanent. We can’t let this become the ‘new normal’ for some of our most vulnerable citizens.”

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