News in brief: Minister says Covid is ‘not out of control’ in Wales
Health Minister Vaughan Gething says the coronavirus situation “isn’t out of control” in Wales but cautioned the increase in infections “is a concern for all of us”.
Speaking at today’s coronavirus press briefing, he said: “We’re setting rules, were giving people encouragement. We’re trying to set out the consequence of each of our choices but asking people to think about what they should do”, he said.
“But ultimately, we need everybody’s help, but government can’t do this on its own. We need people across Wales to consider how they can do the right thing to protect themselves, and other people around them.
“And that’s the point of keeping Wales safe.”
Echoing comments made by health officials at the weekend, Mr Gething also urged people not to mix outside their households in the run-up to Christmas.
He said there were more than 14,000 cases of coronavirus confirmed last week with one in five of the tests positive and warned coronavirus was “widespread” in Welsh communities.
“That is why we are asking everyone not to mix with people you don’t live with,” he added.
Dr Robin Howe, Incident Director for the COVID-19 outbreak response at Public Health Wales, said on Saturday that everyone should immediately start to limit their interactions with other as much as possible in the lead up to the festive period: “This means staying out of other people’s homes, limiting the times and the numbers of people that you meet, maintaining social distancing and hand hygiene, working from home if you can, and self-isolating if you show symptoms of coronavirus or are asked to do so by contact tracers.
“As the number of cases continues to accelerate in Wales, we would also advise people to consider their plans for Christmas from the perspective of what they ‘should’ do, rather than what they ‘can’ do, in order to protect their families and communities.”
A further 33 people have died with coronavirus and there have been 1,228 new confirmed positive tests for the virus, according to the latest figures from Public Health Wales.
Eight of the newly reported deaths were in the Aneurin Bevan health board area, seven in Betsi Cadwaladr, four in Cardiff and Vale, five in Cwm Taf Morgannwg, four in Hywel Dda and five in Swansea Bay.
Cardiff (151) recorded the highest number of new cases, followed by Rhondda Cynon Taf (137) and Swansea (128).
The highest weekly infection rate was in Merthyr Tydfil, with 870.3 cases per 100,000 people, followed by Neath Port Talbot at 770.3.
Bridgend has the highest proportion of positive tests for the virus at 28.1% per 100,000 tests over the past week.
Second health board suspends non-critical services
Swansea Bay has become the second health board in Wales to suspend all non-urgent care due to the spike in coronavirus cases across the country.
On Saturday Aneurin Bevan health board, which covers Blaenau Gwent, Monmouthshire, Torfaen, Caerphilly and Newport and has some of the highest levels of COVID-19 in Wales, announced it was suspending non-critical services.
Speaking at today’s government press briefing, Health Minister Vaughan Gething said: “Health boards are making difficult decisions to pause some normal services to focus on winter and pandemic pressures.”
Last week Wales’ Chief Medical officer warned the surge in coronavirus infections across the country was putting “serious pressure” on the health service and its workers and could result in non-essential NHS services being impacted.
Dr Frank Atherton said: “It may be that we will come to the point that we might have to change that policy of… being able to provide non-essential services in Wales. That’s what we did in the lockdown, the initial lockdown, in February, March.
“We haven’t reached that point, we hope not to reach that point, we want to keep non-essential services moving if we possibly can.
“But that may be something that we need to seriously think about.”
Plaid Cymru welcomes proposals for mass testing programme in schools
Plaid Cymru has welcomed the announcement from the government this morning that rapid coronavirus testing will be rolled out across schools and colleges in Wales from January but says schools must get the support they need to implement the programme effectively.
The proposals mean that pupils and staff identified as close contacts of someone with the virus will be asked to either self-isolate as normal or to take a lateral flow test at the start of the school day for the duration of the self-isolation period.
Those who test negative would continue attending school as normal, those who test positive would be required to self-isolate and book a confirmatory test.
Plaid Cymru Shadow Education Minister Siân MS said: “Mass testing programmes in schools and colleges are a really important step in keeping our learning environments safe. Plaid Cymru has been calling for this since the summer, but schools must get the support they need to roll this out properly.
“Staff in schools have had to adapt very quickly to changing circumstances, often at the last minute. This is a huge additional responsibility and extra staff and resources will be needed to support a workforce which is already dealing with so many challenges and strains.
“In addition, as positive cases are found and children are asked to self-isolate, focus must be brought on ensuring that every child can access on-line learning. Welsh Government must get a grasp on the extent of the digital divide in Wales and take action to ensure that no learner is left behind during this time.”
The government says schools and colleges will be offered support, equipment and training to help implement the programme.
New avian flu measures introduced
New measures have been introduced to curb the spread of a virulent strain of avian flu across the UK.
Under the new restrictions millions of free-range hens and other birds must be kept indoors from today.
Earlier this month the chief vets of Wales, England and Scotland agreed the new legal requirement for all owners to bring their flocks indoors, to keep them separate from potentially infectious wild birds.
The measures apply to chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese, pigeon (bred for meat), partridge, quail, guinea fowl and pheasants.
Eggs can continue to be marketed and labelled as “free-range” for 16 weeks from today, but if the restrictions remain in place at the end of that period they must be downgraded to “barn produced” using stickers on packaging.
Poultry meat can be labelled free-range for 12 weeks before being relabeled.