News in brief: Minister says postponement of Senedd election would be ‘a last resort’
Julie James, Minister for Housing and Local Government, says the government’s “firm intention” is for May’s elections to go head as planned but has also laid out the criteria which will be used to decide if a postponement is necessary.
Voting for the Senedd elections is due to take place on 6 May alongside Police and Crime Commissioner elections and any postponed local government by elections fixed for that date by Returning Officers.
“Although most indicators are moving in the right direction and the vaccination programme is making very significant progress, it is difficult to be certain what the position will be in early May,” the minister observed in a written statement.
“The Welsh Government’s firm intention is that the election will proceed on 6 May 2021 and a postponement of the election would only be used as a last resort if the public health situation required it,” she added.
“We are supporting Returning Officers and electoral administrators to take action to mitigate risks associated with running the election during the pandemic. Social distancing and hygiene measures will be in place at polling stations and counting venues, and voters will be encouraged to consider postal and proxy voting. Emergency proxy votes will be available to those who need to self-isolate close to polling day.”
“The decision to postpone an election is not one that should be taken lightly, and in making a proposal to postpone the election, the Welsh Government must consider the public health position and how an election could have a negative impact upon those participating and contribute to an increase in infection rates.
“Along with any public health concerns, we must also factor in the impact this has on the ability of electoral administrators to effectively hold the poll. This must all be evaluated against the impact on Welsh democracy of postponing an election and the consequences of delaying the fundamental right of those enfranchised to vote.”
Residents in Covid hotspot warned to follow the rules
Gwynedd residents have been urged to urged to stick to the Covid-19 rules to stop the spread of the virus.
Gwynedd is the local authority with highest coronavirus incidence rate in Wales over the past seven days at 85.1 per 100,000 people, down from 89.1 yesterday. It has also recorded the highest positive test proportion over the last week at 9.1% per 100,000 tests.
The national case rate today, according to Public Health Wales, is 47.9 and the test proportion is 5.1%
“It is almost a year since the first lockdown was introduced and we know that it has been an incredibly difficult time for everyone,” Dafydd Williams, Gwynedd Council’s Head of Environment and Chair of the Gwynedd Prevention and Surveillance Group said.
“The vaccination programme is gathering pace and we can look forward to some light at the end of the tunnel.
“As a county, we have achieved so much together to protect Gwynedd’s communities. But now is not the time to let our guard down – we appreciate that the picture nationally is improving, but the situation in Gwynedd remains a cause for concern.
“We know that people want to get back to life as it was before Covid-19, but the fact is that the virus remains a very real threat. The latest figures show that we cannot let our guard down and that we must continue to follow the Covid-19 rules.
“For now, we need to stick to the basic rules to keep each other safe and to protect the vital NHS services we rely on.
“By playing your part to control the spread of this virus, you will undoubtedly save lives here in Gwynedd.”
Meanwhile PHW reports a further seven people have died with Covid-19 and 195 new positive tests for the virus have been confirmed in the last 24 hours.
Cardiff and Vale and Betsi Cadwaladr health boards both reported three new Covid-related deaths each. The other newly recorded death was in Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board.
Up to yesterday evening 16,377 people received their first dose of Covid vaccine and 13,344 completing the full course. Since the start of the vaccination programme in early December more than 983,000 people have now had their first dose of the vaccine.
Lockdown measures could be eased for election campaigners
The Welsh Government is “considering” a relaxation of Covid rules to allow face-to-face campaigning for May’s Senedd elections.
Under current lockdown restrictions candidates in Wales are prohibited from doorstep leafleting and canvassing.
Restrictions on door-to-door campaigning are being relaxed in England next week ahead of local, mayoral and police and crime commissioner elections in May.
Health Minister Vaughan Gething said a decision could be announced next Friday as part of the latest review of the Covid restrictions in Wales.
“We recognise that for the election to function, we want all parties, all candidates to have the ability to communicate with the electorate and we’d like to be in a position to safely move from having paid leaflet delivery to the sort of things that people can do with volunteers”, Mr Gething said.
Responding to Mr Gething’s comments, Tory group leader in the Senedd, Andrew RT Davies said: “We need to get on with this quickly now the election is less than sixty days away.
“There’s no reason why Wales can’t do that – let’s get on with it.”
Llandeilo restoration will boost Welsh language use
The Welsh Government has announced funding to help complete the restoration work of the Shire Hall in Llandeilo.
The Shire Hall is the third oldest building in Llandeilo and dates back to 1803. Over the centuries it has been used as a corn exchange, magistrates’ courts, and more recently as offices for Dyfed Archaeological Trust and Llandeilo Town Council.
Once work is complete the hall will provide opportunities to increase the use of the Welsh language, which is part of the Welsh Government’s Cymraeg 2050 strategy.
It will also provide a new centre for support services, pop-up units for local businesses, a meeting/consultation room and a tourist destination hub.
First Minister, Mark Drakeford, said: “The pandemic has had an effect on all aspects of Welsh life, and this funding will ensure the Shire Hall can continue to be an essential hub for Llandeilo – as it has been for the last 200 years.
The hall will have a great impact on the area, creating more than 30 new jobs and further apprenticeship and training opportunities – all through the medium of Welsh, which will be an integral part of the development of the hall and supports the many of the aims of our Cymraeg 2050 strategy.
The restoration of the hall is expected to be completed by April 2021.
New test centre for Bridgend county borough
Hannah Neary, local democracy reporter
A new mobile coronavirus testing centre has opened in Bridgend county borough.
The new centre is available for drive-through appointments at Bettws playing fields, Heol Richard Price (CF32 8SF).
The facility will be open daily from 9am to 5 pm and appointments must be booked in advance.
Residents may still attend walk-through appointments at the Bowls Hall car park off Bridgend Life Centre, Angel Street, Bridgend (CF31 4AH). The centre is open daily from 8am to 8pm and appointments must be booked in advance.
Appointments can be made by visiting the Welsh Government website or calling 119. People with hearing or speech difficulties can book an appointment by calling 18001119.
Council Leader Huw David said: “Covid-19 is still circulating in our communities so it is vital that residents who develop symptoms self-isolate immediately and book a test.
“The main symptoms are a high temperature, a new, continuous cough, or a change or loss of your sense of smell or taste.
“While vaccination programme continues to be rolled out across the county borough, it will take some time for everyone to be offered their first dose so it’s important that we all continue to follow the rules.”
Community testing recently began in the county borough for asymptomatic residents, beginning with a walk-in centre at the Kenfig Hill Rugby and Football Club.
The centre will be available to residents from Cefn Cribwr, Pyle, Kenfig Hill and Cornelly until Tuesday March 09.
Residents attending this centre do not need to book in advance. It is open from Monday to Friday between 9.30am and 6.30pm and from 10am to 4pm on weekends.