News in brief: Minister hails ‘early signs’ of drop in Covid infections
Health Minister Vaughan Gething has welcomed “positive early signs” that the number of coronavirus cases in Wales is falling following the 17-day lockdown, which ended last Sunday.
Figures released yesterday confirmed there were a record number of Covid patients being treated in Welsh Hospitals but there has been a significant drop in the number of patients requiring intensive care treatment compared to the first wave of the virus and the latest data from Public Health Wales shows sharp falls in cases in the hardest-hit areas like Merthyr Tydfil and Wrexham.
“It is still too early to see the impact of the firebreak on coronavirus but these are positive early signs,” Mr Gething said at today’s government press briefing.
“We need keep building on this and make sure we don’t slip back as we come out of the firebreak.”
According to PHW over the last week the infection rate in Merthyr Tydfil has fallen from about 770 cases per 100,000 people, the highest in the UK, to 397.8. Mr Gething also pointed out that in Wrexham the figure has almost halved to 153 cases per 100,000 people.
The minister also revealed the long-awaited scheme to provide £500 self-isolation payments to people on low incomes, who cannot work from home, would start on Monday.
People can apply for the payments if they have to self-isolate because they have coronavirus or are advised to self-isolate by the Test, Trace, Protect service.
Self-isolation payments have been available in England and Scotland since October but Mr Gething said it had taken more time to set up in Wales because the government had needed to “go through local authorities and link up to our Test, Trace, Protect service”.
The government had also been in talks with the Department for Work and Pensions because it did not want the payments to result in people’s benefit’s being reduced.
Paul Davies, the leader of the Tories in the Senedd, criticised delays in launching the scheme and called on the government to backdate payments to September.
“These payments have actually been introduced in other parts of the UK for many, many weeks now, and I understand that in other parts of the UK they will be back-date to September, and that doesn’t seem to be the case as far as the Welsh Government is concerned,” Mr Davies said.
“I would urge the Welsh Government to look at that and reconsider that, because it’s important that people on low incomes get the support they deserve.”
Public Health Wales has confirmed a further 29 deaths due to coronavirus and 797 new positive tests for the virus in the past 24 hours.
The total number of deaths in Wales since the start of the pandemic has now climbed to 2,171.
10 deaths were in the Aneurin Bevan health board region and there were also 10 in the Betsi Cadwaladr health board area.
Four further deaths were in the Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board, three were reported in Swansea Bay and were two in the Hywel Dda health board area.
The highest number of new cases in the last 24 hours were in Rhondda Cynon Taf (86) and Neath Port Talbot (82).
Plaid Cymru announces new plan to support young people’s mental wellbeing
A Plaid Cymru Government would establish Wales-wide hubs to provide mental health support for young people, Shadow Health Minister Rhun ap Iorwerth MS has said.
The hubs would offer early intervention for young people who are not ill enough to require advanced psychiatric treatment but require support for their mental health. They would offer pre-arranged counselling and could deal with emergencies and other walk-ins.
Mr ap Iorwerth said that the “one stop shop” Hubs would “revolutionise” the way young people access support for their mental health, and, in being linked to other health services, would help join up an “increasingly fragmented service”.
The fully costed scheme mirrors a similar concept that has been launched in New Zealand, with town-centre locations offering services by physicians, nurses, counsellors, social workers and youth staff.
A new study by Swansea and Cardiff Universities shows that Wales faces a wave of mental health problems in the wake of Covid-19, with younger adults, women and people from deprived areas suffering the most.
“With young people being increasingly affected by Covid restrictions and self-isolation requirements, and waiting times for non-Covid services ever lengthening, we don’t really know how many young people might currently be in need of mental health support,” Mr ap Iorwerth said.
“The changes needed in terms of services that are available, and access to them, should be nothing short of revolutionary. Plaid’s one-stop shop hubs will be a key part of that transformation of services for young people.
“The focus will be on mental health and wellbeing. These hubs would offer counselling both by appointment but also – crucially – on a walk-in basis. We already have walk-in services for physical problems in our A&E departments, so it’s only right that there should be walk-in services for those experiencing mental health problems.
“No young person should be left feeling like they have no support, especially following one of the biggest periods of upheaval in living memory. Left unchecked, poor mental health in childhood and adolescence is linked to mental health problems in adulthood, and so it’s really important to make early interventions easy accessible to any young person that needs them.”
Call for urgent action to secure National Library’s future
The interim Chair of the Senedd’s Culture Committee, Helen Mary Jones MS (Plaid, Mid & West Wales), has warned that the National Library – based in Aberystwyth – was facing a funding crisis caused by years of what’s claimed to be underfunding.
A Welsh Government-commissioned independent review has warned of the long-term financial viability of the institution.
Helen Mary Jones said: “The National Library holds some of our most important history and as an organisation it has a rich history itself. We must do all we can to protect its future. That is why we’re urgently calling on the Welsh Government for answers.”
Senedd Commission budget for 2021-22 approved
The Senedd approved the Senedd Commission’s budget for 2021-22 by 44 votes to 13 on 11th November.
The Senedd’s total running costs will be around £62million, including expenses associated with next year’s Welsh general election as well as the Covid-19 pandemic.
Senedd Commissioner for Finance, Suzy Davies MS (Con, South Wales West) said consideration was given to freezing the budget but it was deemed impossible due to increased staffing costs.
Construction set to start on final stages of A465 dualling
Work on the final two sections of the A465 dualling project – which will run between Dowlais and Hirwaun – is set to start in spring 2021 with site clearance works set to begin straight away.
A consortium including Atkins, Alun Griffiths and others (“Future Valleys”) were awarded the contract. At 18km (~11 miles) long, it’ll be one of the longest road projects by length in post-devolution Wales.
The scheme has a budget of £400 million, though it’s expected to generate £675 million for the economy, with £170 million to be spent in the Heads of the Valleys region.
GWLAD festival revived in virtual form
The GWLAD festival – originally held in 2019 to mark the 20th anniversary of devolution – has been revived as an online event for 2020.
Events will be held throughout November, looking at the future of rural Wales, the creative sector, how the pandemic will change working patterns and future generations.
Llywydd, Elin Jones (Plaid, Ceredigion) said: “From the world of work, education, arts, sport and business – many sectors face an uncertain future and may be changed forever. This year’s GWLAD sessions, we aim to tackle these challenges, to learn from the experiences of people from all backgrounds and all corners of the country in order to share ideas on how to rebuild stronger and better for the future.”