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News in brief: Minister under fire over Covid deaths claim

16 Jul 2021 9 minutes Read
Health Minister Eluned Morgan. Picture by the Welsh Government.

Health Minister Eluned Morgan has come under fire after claiming the Welsh Government holds no official data on the number of people who have died from hospital-acquired Covid-19 infections.

Last week, an investigation by S4C’s Newyddion programme, following a Freedom of Information request, revealed that 1,860 of those who died with Covid-19 noted on their death certificate up to 1 May this year were “definitely” or “likely” to have been infected in hospital.

In two health boards, Hywel Dda and Swansea Bay, the figures showed that one in three Covid-19 deaths were associated with hospital infections.

However, in a written answer to Welsh Conservative Senedd leader, Andrew RT Davies, the health minister said the government holds no official figures on the issue.

“It was long suspected that hospital-acquired infections were a huge driver in the number of Covid-19 deaths in Wales, but it was only due to the work of Newyddion reporter Gwyn Loader, that the true extent of the problem was revealed,” Welsh Conservative shadow health minister, Russell George MS said.

‘Devastating’

“Given the devastating scale of the problem, I’m very surprised Labour ministers are not keeping an official track of such data. Is it incompetence or a deliberate move to block such information being made publicly available?

“Time and time again during the pandemic, Labour ministers assured us they learning lessons from hospital-acquired outbreaks and that infections and deaths were not out of control. But if we are to believe they don’t hold readily hold such information, how could they possible give the public such assurances?

“We need an urgent explanation from the Welsh Labour Government as ministers must be doing everything they possibly can to capture such vital data given its impact on the lives of people in our most vulnerable settings.”

Following Newyddion’s report last week both the Tories and Plaid Cymru called on the government to set up an independent inquiry into its handling of the Covid pandemic in Wales.

Image by lukasmilan from Pixabay.

Wales Covid rates remain lowest in the UK despite Delta variant surge

Covid infection rates in Wales continue to be the lowest in the UK despite the recent surge in cases sparked by the Delta variant.

According to the latest figures released by the Office for National Statistics, over the week ending 10 July an estimated 8,400 people had the virus, the equivalent of one in 360 people, a slight fall from the previous week when it was calculated the figure was one in 340.

Figures released yesterday by Public Health Wales revealed cases of the Delta variant have jumped by almost 53% in the past week, taking the total number of cases to 5,601, with 40% of those in the north of Wales.

Betsi Cadwaladr health board, which covers Anglesey, Conwy, Denbighshire, Flintshire, Gwynedd and Wrexham, recorded 749 new cases in the last seven days and has reported 2169 cases overall since the Delta mutation was first identified in Wales.

Scotland currently has the highest infection rates in the UK with 60,000 people estimated to have the virus, one in 90 of the population, while in England over the same seven days the ONS estimates that 577,700 people within the community population had the virus, equating to around one in 95.

In Northern Ireland, the percentage of people testing positive increased from the previous week, taking the estimated infection rate to around one in 290 people.

Meanwhile, Public Health Wales has reported two further deaths due to Covid and 1,083 new cases in today’s update.

The newly recorded deaths were in the Betsi Cadwaladr and Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board areas and take the total number of deaths in Wales since the start of the pandemic to 5,583.

Just five local authorities across Wales currently have weekly case rates under 100 per 100,000 of the population and the national rate has risen to 156.3 from 150.5 since yesterday. The test positivity rate has also risen, from 7.9% per 100,000 tests to 8.2%

Wrexham continues to have the worst weekly case rate in the country at 303.8, down from 318.5 in Thursday’s report and the testing rate has also gone down 0.1% to 14.1%.

Photo by Csaba Nagy from Pixabay

FCA to open new office in Cardiff

The Financial Conduct Authority has revealed plans to open offices in Cardiff, Belfast and Leeds to increase its presence outside London.

In the agencies latest business plan, released yesterday, it revealed the new offices in Belfast and Cardiff are expected to open by the end of the year, marking the first time it has had a permanent base in Wales and Northern Ireland.

“We recognise the importance of engagement with devolved administrations and legislatures, as the different nations of the UK may have different needs and views,” the regulator said.

The FCA, which currently employs about 4,000 staff, primarily in London, is also set to double the number of staff employed in Scotland to 200 and said it was considering opening a new northern hub in Leeds, where it would host at least 100 staff in its first phase, which will be under way by the end of 2022.

“We are a regulator for the whole of the UK,” the FCA said a statement. “Alongside our ongoing strong commitment to presences in London and Edinburgh, we are developing a national location strategy.”

The Senedd. Photo Nation.Cymru

Cardiff artist’s exhibition greets people back to the Senedd building

Cardiff-born artist, Sean Edwards’ experience of growing up in the city in the 1980s is the inspiration for an art exhibition which will welcome people back through the Senedd doors this summer.

The exhibition Undo Things Done, which opens on Monday 26 July, draws on Edwards’ experience of growing up on a council estate; capturing and translating what he calls a condition of ‘not expecting much’ into a shared visual language; one that evokes a way of living familiar to a great number of people.

As part of the presentation in the Senedd, which includes Welsh quilts, prints, sculpture and film, the artist has reworked Refrain, a 2019 National Theatre Wales commissioned radio play which was written for and performed by Edward’s mother, Lily Edwards.

The exhibition will be at the Senedd from Monday 26 July until 5 September and people will need to book tickets in advance, through the Senedd website from Friday 16 July.

Five time slots will be offered for visits each weekday, with four slots on the weekend. This means that the Senedd building will be open to the public seven days a week for the first time since it was forced to close at the start of the first lockdown of the pandemic in March 2020.

In the interest of Covid safety, numbers to the exhibition will be limited to 15 people at a time and visitors will follow a one-way system around the exhibition. Guidelines on maintaining social distancing and hygiene facilities and hand sanitisers are available throughout the building. 

How the St Thomas site by the River Tawe in Swansea could look once re-developed. image by icreate.co.uk

Council agrees to appoint preferred bidder to develop seven plots of land

Richard Youle, local democracy reporter

Leaders in Swansea have agreed to appoint a development partner to push ahead with new homes, commercial and leisure space on seven plots of land in the city.

Cabinet approved the outline of a 20-year umbrella agreement with the as yet unknown company at a meeting on July 15.

The Labour administration has earmarked these seven sites for development:

– Civic Centre: the intention is to relocate council offices from the seafront building to a new public sector hub north of Oystermouth Road (see below) and for the Civic Centre site to be become a residential-led mixed use development

– Swansea Central North: an employment-led development north of Oystermouth Road comprising a public sector hub. Housing, leisure and retail space also proposed

– Hafod Copperworks: an opportunity to create a large leisure destination, building on two existing projects which both have identified operators

– Oxford Street: mixed-use development at the car park opposite the Grand Theatre

– St Thomas: residential-led scheme at the former St Thomas railway station, by the River Tawe

– Sail Bridge: a mix of uses including housing on land off East Burrows Road, by the landmark bridge across to SA1

– Swansea Marina: high-quality residential development, with complementary commercial uses, on land behind the former observatory.

The council has been leading the £135 million Copr Bay scheme, which includes the indoor arena, among other developments and it now wants the private sector to take forward future schemes.

Public discussion on the appointment process was limited at cabinet for commercial reasons.

Council leader Rob Stewart said it represented another milestone in Swansea’s “development journey”, and that it would enable future schemes to be delivered “at pace and scale”.

Seven developers responded to the council’s marketing of the seven sites, which had a working title of Shaping Swansea, with four then shortlisted.

These four companies then put forward their ideas for the Civic Centre, St Thomas and and Swansea Central North, prior to the submission of final tenders.

Any development of the seven sites will require cabinet approval and planning permission – and at this stage there is no council funding requirement.

Cabinet members were due to discuss the appointment in more detail in a private session. Ahead of that, the council’s chief finance officer Ben Smith asked cabinet members to be “mindful of the advice” he had given them in the private report.

The council held a marketing event at the National Waterfront Museum about the seven sites in March last year, just before the Covid crisis broke.

At that Shaping Swansea event, Cllr Stewart was asked if he would consider borrowing more money to help transform the seven sites. He replied: “I have got no aversion to borrowing more if the business case is right.

“Where we can deliver something the taxpayer owns, and we can make money from it, why would we not do it?”

One developer at the event, who asked not to be named, said more would become clear in the coming months.

“You want to keep your powder dry, until you see what the detail is,” he said.

“It is all very impressive. What is not clear is what they anticipate a developer will get out of it.”

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