News in brief: Minister hints at ‘stay local’ measures after next week’s lockdown review
Wales’ Health Minister has hinted that people will be asked to stay local following next week’s review of the current lockdown restrictions in Wales and said the government would continue its cautious approach to lifting the measures.
The current “stay at home” message is expected to be lifted as figures show a significant decline in Covid cases in Wales in recent weeks, but Vaughan Gething indicated it’s likely wider travel restriction will remain in place.
Under previous stay local measures non-essential travel was limited to five miles within Wales.
“I think there are some very easy to understand arguments about why we would want to have a period of stay local before moving to wider travel,” he told today’s government press briefing.
“It is important to remember that the restrictions in England mean that people shouldn’t be travelling from England into Wales.”
“We are bound to publish more evidence that will explain the situation that we are in and the approach we are taking,” he added
“The vaccinations are really helping us, but a substantial amount of the fall in case rates has come from the lockdown measures themselves.
“As we exit and as we gradually ease those restrictions we are dealing with a much more infectious strain of the virus. That is one of the things that is behind the important caution that we have about easing restrictions.
“There is a balance to be struck and we are taking a responsible evidence led approach in Wales and that is why the public and still supportive of the general approach we are taking her in Wales.”
Mr Gething also confirmed “a couple” of senior Welsh Government staff have tested positive for Covid-19 this week.
Yesterday First Minister Mark Drakeford revealed that he was self-isolating at home “as a precaution” after being in contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus.
Speaking at today’s government press briefing, Mr Gething said: “They are following the advice given by Test, Trace, Protect and to isolate and work from home, including the First Minister,” he said.
“I am here because I wasn’t in at that time. We have been trying to do the right thing, but this does show that despite all the control measures it is possible for coronavirus to sneak through.
“It also shows why there is a cautious approach out of lockdown.”
12 new Covid deaths reported in Wales
Public Health Wales has reported 12 further deaths due to Covid-19 and 230 new cases of the virus in today’s update.
Both Cwm Taf Morgannwg and Swansea Bay health board areas reported four deaths since yesterday.
Cardiff and Vale recorded three further deaths and one person died in the Aneurin Bevan health board area.
Cardiff (35) had the highest number of new cases in the last 24 hours, followed by Gwynedd (18) and Flintshire (17).
Gwynedd currently has the highest weekly case rate in Wales at 89.1, down from 94.7 per 100,000 people yesterday, and the highest positive test rate of 9.4 %, a fall from 9.7% per 100,000 tests for the week.
Only four local authorities in Wales have recorded over 100 new cases in the last seven days, Cardiff (173), Caerphilly (139), Gwynedd (111) and Swansea (110).
The have been just 14 new cases in Ceredigion this week and the case rate there is the lowest in Wales at 19.3 per 100,000 people.
Overall, the national case rate has declined to 50.9 from 53.1 since yesterday and the positive test proportion has fallen from 5.5% to 5.4%.
A total of 154,819 people have received both doses of vaccine and 967,043 have received a single dose so far.
Conservatives launch Covid management plan
The Welsh Conservatives have announced a plan for the long-term management of Covid-19 in Wales.
British scientists have warned of the possibility of major outbreaks of the disease for at least another year and experts say it could become a permanent feature of life for the foreseeable future.
Martin Hibberd, of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, told the Guardian Newspaper last month: “We have to understand Covid-19 is going to become endemic. The virus will not disappear. We are not going to eradicate it. Even if every human on Earth was vaccinated, we would still be at risk of it coming back.”
If the Tories win May’s Senedd election, they will:
- Appoint a dedicated COVID-19 Recovery Minister in the Welsh Government to oversee all areas of coronavirus recovery including the vaccine rollout across Wales and who is responsible for the administration and delivery of any booster shots.
- Support people experiencing long-term effects of COVID-19 by establishing clinics dedicated to treating long-Covid, ensuring they get the support they need from Welsh Government.
- Ensure that Wales is prepared in the event of another pandemic, working to create a Welsh Pandemic Network for the production of PPE and hand sanitiser to support our Welsh NHS and care homes.
- Urgently establish routes to support for people suffering with mental health problems from the pandemic, especially NHS staff and care workers from providing palliative care, and those suffering bereavement who weren’t able to say goodbye to loved ones.
Announcing the proposals, Shadow Health Minister, Angela Burns said: “Coronavirus has devastated Wales and our people and public services, and government will continue to feel the effects for years to come.
“Long-Covid can have a huge impact on people and Welsh Conservatives will doing everything we can to support people who will suffer with their health.
“Welsh Conservatives will bring forward a long-term COVID-19 management plan that will be the sole responsibility of a recovery minister and include actions to support the ongoing vaccination programme and any subsequent booster shots, the establishment of long-Covid clinics across Wales, and the creation of a Welsh Pandemic Network to ensure we are fully prepared for every eventuality.”
Councillors refuse planning permission for Cynon Valley energy plant chimney stack
By: Anthony Lewis
Plans to double the height of a waste energy plant’s chimney stack in the Cynon Valley have been rejected after widespread public opposition.
The plan was to increase the height of the chimney from 45 metres to 90 metres at the site on Hirwaun Industrial Estate but councillors refused against officer recommendations because of the visual impact it would have on the surrounding area.
In 2008, Enviroparks submitted applications to both Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council (RCT) and the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority (BBNPA) for planning permission for a waste resource recovery and energy production park.
Both authorities approved it and consent was given in 2010 when a section 106 agreement was completed.
Phase one was completed but a further consent was given in 2019 to an updated plan for phase two due to advances in waste recovery technologies since the original consent and changes in the policy and commercial landscape for waste recovery and renewable energy generation.
They are now proposing to double the height of a chimney stack (from 45 metres to 90 metres) and relocate it with no other elements of the previously approved schemes to be changed.
But there has been opposition to the plans locally with 241 letters of objection or concern were received by the council as well as four petitions including 4,441 signatures as well as from the local MP Beth Winter and MS Vikki Howells.
Members of the public spoke against the application as did the local MS Vikki Howells, MP Beth Winter, local councillors Graham Thomas and Karen Morgan and a representative from Hirwaun and Penderyn Community Council.
Ms Howells said: “I believe that this application is one that has significant and far reaching consequences for the whole of the Cynon Valley and beyond.”
She said said it would have a visual impact and that the Statue of Liberty in New York is the closest visual representation of the stack as it stands at 93m.
She said: “It would have a devastating impact on the economic potential of the area.
“We are right on the cusp of unlocking the region’s full potential.”
Ms Winter said: “It will dominate the local area and will be a blight on the landscape.”
She also raised concern about the impact on the dark skyreserve in Brecon Beacons National Park.
Ms Winter said it could “detract from all the positive work being undertaken and act as a barrier to investment.”
She added: “The people of the Cynon Valley do not want this stack and we should listen to them.”
The main objections from the public included that it would have a detrimental effect on the environment and it would impact on deprived communities.
They said it would be a pollution risk to the Penderyn Reservoir (water supply) and the volume of traffic and pollution would increase greatly due to the HGVs
delivering to the site with roads already being congested.
They said the erection of the stack would be a “monstrosity” and an “eyesore” within the landscape and not compatible with the surrounding area.
They said the stack would result in a loss of visual amenity and that it would affect tourism and regeneration plans for the area.
The objectors also said the pollution would be a significant worry for both the elderly and children (with three schools in the vicinity) as well as people with respiratory problems as it would affect air quality.
They added that it would affect the viability of the existing Industrial estate and deter firms from coming and affect surrounding farms.
Opponents of the plan said the people of this area have suffered enough with heavy industry in the past which is now coming to an end and want to see more “clean” developments being undertaken, including tourism.
There was also concern about the value of homes in the area, wind-blown waste, the cumulative impact on the landscape with the wind turbines, smells, the impact on the Brecon Beacons National Park views, enjoyment of the surrounding areas being used for recreation, the impact on wildlife and the Special Landscape Area.
The planning agent for Enviroparks said the moving of the chimney to a better location and increase in height would allow for better dispersal of emissions, reduce the amount of pollutants falling on the special area of conservation and there would be an inspection gantry for emissions monitoring.
He said that although the stack would be higher, it would be slender and built with seamless cladding adding that the incremental height increase would be worthwhile because of the benefits.
New support package unveiled for voluntary organisations
The Welsh Government has announced that grant funding of over £2.5m has been awarded to 27 organisations through the Welsh Government Coronavirus Recovery Grant for Volunteering.
The new package of support is to help sustain volunteering and community action during the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We’ve been working closely with the Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA) and public sector organisations throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, helping charities and third sector groups to expand and adapt services to meet specific needs,” Deputy Minister and Chief Whip, Jane Hutt, said.
“This grant funding recognises the huge contribution made by voluntary organisations who have been working on the front line to support our most vulnerable communities, and the partnerships they have formed.
“Funds will be used to improve or introduce new systems, and to help recruit, retain and train volunteers. The grants will also boost partnerships between third sector organisations and public bodies, like local authorities and health boards, to help make a lasting impact on communities.”
“I want to acknowledge and celebrate the admirable work done by volunteer groups, charities and the third sector right across Wales, which has provided much-needed help and support during a particularly challenging time. Thank you for continuing to protect the wellbeing of Wales, its people and communities. Your dedication has been an inspiration.”