News in brief: Minister warns of dangers from unlocking Wales too soon
Education Minister Kirsty Williams has defended the government’s cautious approach to easing restrictions on travel in Wales and expressed concern that allowing visitors back too soon could see Covid infection rates climb again.
First Minister Mark Drakeford is expected to announce that “stay at home” restrictions will be lifted on Friday but people will be asked to “stay local” following this week’s review of the current lockdown restrictions.
Under previous stay local measures non-essential travel was limited to five miles.
The minister said the switch to a “stay local” message would allow the government to “monitor” the decision’s impact “before moving to the next stage” and expressed a “great deal of concern” at the prospect of communities unlocking too quickly.
Ms Williams, who represents Brecon and Radnorshire, said: “We haven’t had visitors in the [Brecon] Beacons for very many months.
“Suddenly having an influx of people into these areas could cause some concerns in those communities, especially if those communities have been fortunate enough to bring down levels low.
“We need to follow the advice that in unlocking restrictions we do not undo the tremendous hard work of the Welsh public.
“We want to ensure that when we unlock, we do that on a permanent basis and not find ourselves in a situation where we will see cases rise quickly again and potentially hospital admissions rise quickly again.”
“We are at a critical juncture in the management of this pandemic, where there is much to be hopeful and optimistic about but could so easily be thrown away.”
Covid deaths in Wales decline for sixth straight week
The number of deaths involving Covid-19 in Wales has fallen for the sixth successive week, according to the Office for National Statistics,
In the week ending 26 February, the number of registered deaths involving coronavirus decreased from 179 the previous week to 138, accounting for 18.2% of all deaths compared with 22.7% for the week ending 19 February.
The number of deaths from all causes decreased from 787 to 759, which was 35 deaths (4.8%) higher than the five-year average.
Since the start of the pandemic last March 7,546 deaths have involved Covid-19, 19.8% of all deaths in Wales and 5,447 deaths above the five-year average.
Deaths counted by the ONS are when Covid-19 is mentioned by doctors on the death certificate and which occur in all settings – including hospitals, care homes, hospices and people’s homes.
The daily figures released by Public Health Wales only include the deaths of a hospital patients or care home resident where Covid-19 has been confirmed with a positive laboratory test and the clinician suspects this was a causative factor in the death.
Meanwhile, today’s figures from Public Health Wales have confirmed three further deaths and 166 new cases of the virus.
Two of the newly reported deaths were in the Hywel Dda health board area and Swansea Bay reported one further death since the weekend. The total number of deaths in Wales since March according to PHW is 5,406.
Seventeen of 22 local authorities in Wales reported under 10 new positive tests for the virus in the last 24 hours and there were no new cases in Ceredigion.
The weekly case rate in Wales has fallen to 43.9 per 100,000 people from 49.8 yesterday and the positive test proportion is 3.6% for every 100,000 tests.
Anglesey has the highest infection rate in Wales at 78.5 and the highest test rate at 8.5%.
£16m invested in new medicines fund
The Minister for Health and Social Services, Vaughan Gething has announced a further £16m of funding is being made available to extend a scheme to speed up access to new medicines in Wales.
The New Treatment Fund was established by the Welsh Government in 2017 and has enabled quicker access to over 265 medicines to treat more than 100 health conditions, including Cancer, HIV, Multiple Sclerosis and Cystic Fibrosis.
Since the fund’s inception It has cut the average time it takes for newly recommended medicines to become available to patients by 85 per cent, from 90 to 13 days.
“Since we established the New Treatment Fund it has helped to prolong and improve the lives of thousands of people across Wales,” Mr Gething said.
“Patients and their families are benefiting from improved access to life saving and life changing medicines. I’m pleased to confirm the extension of the Fund which reaffirms our commitment to ensure that people receive the latest recommended treatments quickly, no matter where they live in Wales.”
Fears over future of Newport steel jobs
Union officials are in talks today with Liberty Steel UK, following reports that the principal financial backer of its parent company GFG Alliance could fall into administration.
Liberty Steel is the UK’s third-largest steelmaker, employing 3,000 people at 11 sites. Including close to 200 at its Newport plant.
Another 2,000 people in engineering businesses within the group are also involved.
Many of Liberty Steel’s assets were part of Tata Steel’s UK business until they were purchased by GFG Alliance for £100m in 2017.
Specialist bank Greensill Capital is the main lender to Sanjeev Gupta’s GFG Alliance business empire, which includes Liberty Steel but concern over the bank’s exposure to Mr Gupta’s business has prompted Swiss investment bank Credit Suisse to freeze withdrawals from up to £10bn worth of funds held as security.
The Community union told the BBC it would be seeking “assurances on behalf of our members”.
“We are ready to work with all stakeholders to protect jobs and take confidence from the fact this is a vital strategic business with a world-class workforce, producing the best steels money can buy,” it added.
“This announcement, of course, will undoubtedly cause anxiety for workers and their families,” Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Economy, Business and Infrastructure, Russell George MS, said
“So, first and foremost, the most important aim now is for dialogue to ensue, in a bid for a solution to be found.
“Steelworkers in Wales have a brilliant reputation for creating high-quality products and I truly hope a solution can be reached.”
Self-referral online form for unpaid carers launched for Covid-19 vaccinations
Unpaid carers who may not be registered as an unpaid carer with their GP are being urged to complete a new online self-referral form in order to receive their Covid-19 vaccine as part of priority group 6.
Local health board will be making the online form available on their websites in the coming days and further details can be found here https://gov.wales/get-covid-19-vaccine-unpaid-carer
Once the form is submitted, the health board will arrange for the information to be uploaded to the Welsh Immunisation System (WIS) and a vaccine appointment will be issued.
Everyone within groups 5-9 will be invited for a vaccination by mid-April. Those already registered as an unpaid carer with their GP should receive an invite in the next couple of weeks and do not need to complete the online form.
“Having put their lives on hold caring for vulnerable people, we know that many unpaid carers will feel relieved to be called for their vaccination,” Claire Morgan, Director of Carers Wales, said.
“Carers Wales has worked with the Welsh Government on the self-identification process and urges eligible unpaid carers to complete the new online self-referral form as soon as they are able.”