News in brief: Minister hails ‘real falls’ in Covid cases across Wales
Health Minister Vaughan Gething declared there are now “real falls” in cases of coronavirus across Wales at today’s government press briefing.
“Nationally, the incidence rate has fallen below 300 cases per 100,000 people for the first time in a long time,” he said.
“While cases are still high and the situation is still serious, everyone has put so much hard work and sacrifice into following the rules and doing the right thing in protecting themselves and their loved ones over the last four weeks.”
According to today’s figures from Public Health Wales, the Wales-wide weekly case rate is 284.8 per 100,000 people up to the week ending 15 January, the lowest since the first week in December and the weekly positive test rate is 16.7%, down from 17% yesterday and the lowest it has been since the week ending 29 November.
Wrexham still has the highest weekly case rate in Wales at 673 per 100.000 people, down from 698 yesterday. It also has the highest weekly positive test proportion at 26% per 100,000 tests.
PHW also reported a further 44 deaths due to Covid-19 and 1,283 new positive tests for the virus in today’s update.
Of the newly recorded deaths, 11 were in the Cardiff and Vale health board area, 10 were in Betsi Cadwaladr, seven each in both Swansea Bay and Aneurin Bevan, five in Hywel Dda and four in Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board.
The highest number of new cases since yesterday’s report was in Cardiff (159) followed by Wrexham (122) and Flintshire (100).
Mr Gething also said the vaccination programme in Wales will “move up another gear” this week following an increase in supplies of the Oxford Astra-Zeneca jab.
“We expect to receive almost double the amount of vaccine this week as we had in the first fortnight,” he said.
“This means more people over 80 and more people living and working in care homes will be vaccinated in GP practices and by community nurses staffing the 14 mobile units.
“We are vaccinating almost 1,000 care home residents every day.
“This week we will provide a further 60,000 Pfizer vaccines for use in the mass vaccination centres – almost double the number available last week.
“Every vaccine we receive is going to people who need them.”
So far, a total of 175,816 people have received the first dose of a coronavirus vaccine since the second week in December, an increase of 13,884 in the last 24 hours according to PHW.
The minister also claimed “good progress” was being made towards meeting the target of offering everyone in the first four priority groups a vaccination by mid-February.
This will includes all front-line health and care staff, staff and residents in care homes, everyone aged 70 and over and the 130,000 people who are on clinically vulnerable shielding list.
Mr Gething also confirmed the number of vaccination centres would increase from 28 to 45 over the next two weeks and the number of GP practices providing vaccines would increase to more than 250 over the next fortnight.
Covid support to businesses in Wales tops £1.7 billion
New figures have revealed that businesses in Wales have received over £1.7 billion from the Welsh Government in financial support since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic last March.
Over 178,000 grants totalling £1 billion have been delivered through local authorities who have been administering schemes on behalf of the government including the Non-Domestic Rates scheme, Start-Up Grant and the Discretionary Fund.
The funding also includes over £520 million provided through the Economic Resilience Fund and more than £50 million to organisations and individuals through the Culture Recovery Fund.
Tourism, hospitality and leisure businesses are also beginning to get payments from the £180 million sector specific fund which opened on 13 January.
“This past year has placed untold pressures and challenges on our economy and our businesses,” Economy Minister Ken Skates said.
“As a Government we have had to make difficult, but necessary decisions to protect the health of our people and we know this has had an inevitable impact on our firms.
“That is why we have worked hard since the beginning of the pandemic to provide financial support to businesses who need it, as quickly as possible.
“To get more than £1.7 billion out to our firms has meant a huge effort, not least from our local authorities. I would like to thank each and every one of them for everything they have done and continue to do in supporting us to protect businesses.”
Sampling swabs withdrawn due to testing concerns
A batch of medical swabs used for sampling for Covid-19 has been withdrawn from use due to concerns that they were reducing the accuracy of test results.
Health Minister Vaughan Gething confirmed in a written statement that as a results of Public Health Wales’ quality control testing of the swabs last week, an issue that resulted in a small proportion of false positives test results was identified.
The swabs, that have been taken out of circulation, are used to sample for Covid-19 in hospital settings, at health board-run community testing units and Welsh Ambulance Service-operated mobile testing units. They are not used by the lighthouse labs and so tests undertaken through regional and local testing sites are unaffected.
“As soon as this problem was discovered, all microbiology labs and testing centres in Wales were notified so that the affected swabs could be taken out of circulation,” Mr Gething said.
“The affected swabs were shipped into Wales direct from the manufacturer COPAN between 18 November and 14 December 2020. NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership has isolated all relevant supplies as a precaution while further investigations are undertaken.
“Public Health Wales have advised that where these swabs have been used they pose little or no risk to public health. As a safeguard, further checks are being undertaken. The issue detected may have affected the accuracy of a small proportion of test results leading to false positives.
“However, based on what we currently know Public Health Wales is confident that this does not affect the overall epidemiological picture.
“The Covid-19 Test, Trace, Protect system continues to operate as normal and alternative swabs are being used.”