News in brief: Minister warns against travel from England as firebreak lockdown ends

Picture by Llywelyn 2000 (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Welsh Government has issued a reminder of the new restrictions on cross-border travel being introduced after the national firebreak lockdown ends on Sunday night.

There will be no restrictions on travel within Wales from 9 November but the national measures which will come into force will mean travel will only be possible across the Wales-England border with a reasonable excuse.

Examples of a reasonable excuse include travelling for work, education, a medical appointment, legal requirement or compassionate grounds.

The English lockdown, which started on Thursday and is due to run until at least the first week in December, also means cross-border travel is prohibited unless one of the exceptions in the English regulations applies.

Minister for Economy and Transport Ken Skates said: “It’s really important that as we open up, Wales doesn’t become an escape for people seeking to circumvent the new tighter restrictions in England.

“It will not be a reasonable excuse for people to come into Wales for non-essential purposes such as going to a pub or restaurant.

“We are coming out of the firebreak carefully and cautiously, with measures in place to ensure we do not lose what we have gained over the past two weeks.

“I am very aware that not being able to travel across the border between Wales and England will be difficult for some, but we are dealing with a public health emergency and we must all do what is right to protect our families and our communities wherever we live.

“We look forward to welcoming visitors back to Wales, and for the normal day to day life in our cross-border communities to return, but for now we need to keep Wales safe and keep the UK safe.”

The end of the firebreak will also see businesses reopen in Wales, with new Covid-safety measures in place in the hospitality sector, including advance booking, time-limited slots and verified identification.

The number of people in Wales that have died due to coronavirus has risen to 2,014 since the start of the pandemic as the latest figures from Public Health Wales confirmed a further 32 deaths because of the virus in the last 24 hours.

Thirteen deaths were in the Aneurin Bevan health board area and 10 occurred in Cwm Taf Morgannwg.

Since yesterday 958 people tested positive for Covid-19, bringing the total to 59,237 dating back to the first casein Wales at the end of February.

Rhondda Cynon Taf (137) again reported the highest number of new infections, followed by Cardiff with 108 and Swansea 103.

Merthyr Tydfil still has the highest infection rate in Wales at 610 per 100,000 of the population but the number of cases and positive test proportion appears to finally be on a downward trajectory.

Yesterday’s figures showed an infection rate of 639.9 per 100,000 down from 719.4 on Thursday and 741 on Wednesday.

The positive test proportion in Merthyr has dropped to 26.1 per 100,000 tests down from 29.5% yesterday and 30.8 the day before.

RCT now has the highest proportion of positive tests in Wales over the last seven days at 26.6% per 100,000.

Photo by Alexandra Koch from Pixabay

Covid impact on schools detailed in new report

New figures from Public Health Wales have revealed that 44% of schools in Wales had been affected by Covid-19 since the return from the summer break in September.

Overall, 82% of secondary schools recorded at least one case of the virus among pupils or staff while 39% of secondary schools have recorded a positive case since the return.

Since 1 September 1,150 pupils and 951 staff have tested positive for the virus.

Infection rates have been higher among students in older age groups, with the peak among 17 to 18-year-olds at over 600 per 100,000 of the population. The peak for pupils 16 and under has been up to three times lower.

Last week there were close to double the number of cases linked to schools in the Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board area than anywhere else in Wales.

Health officials have stressed that cases linked to schools did not “necessarily imply that transmission occurred in that setting”.

Photo by huwgaran and licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Coronavirus outbreak hits Wrexham Maelor hospital

Health Officials have declared an outbreak of Covid-19 at Wrexham Maelor hospital.

The outbreak is the second declared within the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board in the last three months.

The earlier outbreak was declared at the end of August and affected Glan Clwyd Hospital and community hospitals in Conwy and Denbighshire.

Debra Hickman, Acting Executive Director of Nursing at Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, confirmed that outbreak had now been closed but added: “We have seen a rise in COVID-19 infections at Wrexham Maelor Hospital and a second outbreak affecting a small number of patients has now been declared.

“The virus is still circulating in our communities across North Wales. More patients with COVID-19 are being admitted into our hospitals. As our hospitals come under increasing pressure, keeping patients and staff safe from infection becomes more challenging.

“A significant risk is that a patient can test negative for COVID-19 while the virus is in its incubation period, and then test positive after being admitted to hospital. All hospitals face the challenge of balancing the risk of infection while providing care for those who need it.

“We are appealing to the public to continue to follow the government guidelines to help reduce the risk of infection our communities. This not only helps us to keep our staff and patients safe but will also keep your families and loved ones safe as well.”

A solar panel engineer

New programme aims to decarbonise thousands of homes and boost green economic recovery

The Welsh Government has given the green light to a major new programme that it claims will transform social housing across Wales, boost the economy and open the door to a new Welsh industry.

The £20 million Optimised Retrofit Programme (ORP) is a key part of the Welsh Government’s plans for a green recovery and will bring together Housing Associations and councils on projects that will help upgrade at least 1,000 existing social homes through a mixture of new energy efficient materials and technologies.

Some of the upgrades that are to be trialled in upcoming projects will include the installation of new heat pumps, intelligent energy systems and solar panels. Off gas grid properties which can be difficult and expensive to heat are also a focus of the programme.

As the programme is rolled out across social housing in Wales over the coming years, this will lead to the creation of local jobs, training and apprenticeship opportunities and supply chains as part of a new Welsh retrofit industry.

The Welsh Government will continue to work with the Further Education sector to see how it can support this new industry, with the ambition of opening new retrofit academies across Wales to ensure that there are enough people with the right skills to support this new industry.

The programme will develop the local green economy and contribute to the Welsh Government’s efforts to decarbonise all 1.4 million Welsh homes by 2050. It is anticipated this could lead to as many as 15,000 jobs in Wales.

Minister for Housing and Local Government, Julie James said: “Our goal as a government is to deliver a more prosperous, equal and greener Wales. These values remain as valid today as they did before the pandemic. We see the Optimised Retrofit Programme as just one part of our plans for a green recovery, creating a low carbon economy for Wales, reducing fuel poverty and tackling the climate emergency.

“It’s about much more than just a one-off scheme. This is an approach that could create a sustainable, long-term retrofit industry that supports thousands of local jobs and training opportunities as we act to meet our 2050 carbon targets.”

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