News in brief: Neath Port Talbot, the Vale of Glamorgan and Torfaen added to lockdown watchlist

Coronavirus shop signs. Photo by Nation.Cymru

Health Minister Vaughan Gething indicated that further restrictions could be introduced  after the weekend, following the announcement of new lockdowns in Cardiff, Swansea and Llanelli at today’s coronovirus press briefing.

By Sunday, when Cardiff and Swansea are placed under additional restrictions, close to 1.5 million people will be under lockdown in Wales, just under half the population.

Caerphilly, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Bridgend, Blaenau Gwent, Merthyr Tydfil and Newport are already under lockdown following a spike in coronavirus cases since the start of September.

Mr Gething confirmed that Neath Port Talbot, the Vale of Glamorgan and Torfaen are being closely monitored by health officials and told reporters there would be meetings with “colleagues across the government but also local authority leaders through the weekend and [we’ll] then have to make choices” adding “the pattern of coronavirus can change so significantly and so quickly”

The minister also said the Welsh Government does not currently have any “additional financial provision” to support businesses in local lockdown areas.

He said the government was in discussion with the UK government about further support, but Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Winter Economy Plan announced yesterday did not allocate any addition financial support for businesses affected by the new wave of lockdowns.

Mr Gething said the Welsh Government’s budget was to “help us survive known threats we do have” and called on the UK government for a “further package” of support to be made available.

Hyperlocal

Responding to the news of the new measures, Plaid Cymru Shadow Health Minister Rhun ap Iorwerth MS called for the government to widen restriction on opening times for pubs and bars and to take a more “hyperlocal” approach to lockdowns.

“While a prudent local response is supported, Welsh Government should seriously consider the earlier closing of pubs and bars as a temporary measure in other areas, so as to help avoid further county-wide restrictions,” he said.

“The domino effect of local authority areas being closed doesn’t have to be inevitable, but will become so if more far-reaching preventative measures are not brought in.

“The hyperlocal response to restrictions in Carmarthenshire make sense when transmission is concentrated in just the Llanelli area, but this should be applied consistently. Could the Llantrisant area, with its relatively low case numbers, have been left out of the tight RCT-wide restrictions, for example?”

Andrew RT Davies, Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Minister said “no-one wants these lockdowns to have to be imposed” and also called for a more localised approach from the government.

“Welsh Conservatives have been calling for the use of more detailed data and the introduction of ‘smart, hyperlocal’ lockdowns and I take some comfort that is at least the case in Llanelli, but I regret this has seemingly not been possible in our capital city of Cardiff.

“I have to say I’m also confused as to why the local lockdowns are being imposed on different days in Cardiff and Swansea, and Llanelli. Covid doesn’t know one day from the next, and I didn’t find the Health Minister’s explanation that satisfactory. What’s key is clarity and consistency, and we don’t see that right now from the Welsh Labour-led Government.

“That aside, we need to see steps being taken to protect the most vulnerable through shielding, and all of us need to play our part by adhering to social distancing, masks, and hand hygiene, and we need to see a strong public information campaign from the Welsh Labour-led Government to hammer this message home.”

Mr Davies also called on the Welsh Labour-led Government to bring forward a financial package to support those businesses and industry sectors that will be devastated by this announcement.

Public Health Wales has reported 320 new cases of Covid-19 in today’s update and three new deaths due to the virus.

Rhondda Cynon Taf (48) recorded the highest number of new infections in Wales but Blaenau Gwent’s 35 cases has raised the infection rate in the area to 201.8 per 100,000 people over the last week as the percentage of positive tests in the area reached 11.9 per 100,000 tests.

20 people have tested positive in Merthyr Tydfil over the last 24 hours and has the second highest weekly infection rate at 169.1 per 100,000 of the population and an 8.5% positive test rate, the same as RCT.

There were 31 new cases in Bridgend, 29 in Cardiff and 28 in Swansea.

Since the start of the pandemic 22,215 people have tested positive for Covid-19.

There have been 1,609 deaths due to the virus according to PHW’s figures.

Over the last 24 hours 10,854 tests have been carried out across the country.

Rishi Sunak. Picture by Chris McAndrew (CC BY 3.0).

Ministers express concerns over Chancellor’s Winter Economy Plan

Welsh minsters have given a muted welcome to the announcement of the UK Government’s Winter Economy Plan by Chancellor Rishi Sunak yesterday.

After confirming that he was cancelling the budget two days ago, Mr Sunak announced a series of measures, including a long-awaited replacement for the furlough scheme that will see the government and employers share the cost of paying wages for workers in “viable jobs” and an extension of July’s VAT cut for the hospitality sector from 20% to 5%, which will be extended to the end of March.

Struggling businesses will also be given more time to pay back government loans.

In a written response, Rebecca Evans, Minister for Finance and Trefnydd and Ken Skates, Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales said: “More needs to be done to help people find new jobs and incentivise employers to hire new workers.  There needs to be greater focus on supporting job creation, so vital if the economy is not to go back into recession in the months ahead, and which was notably absent from the Chancellor’s announcement.”

“We are also disappointed the Chancellor was unable to respond to our repeated requests for more targeted support including for large employers based in Wales who are integral to the success of a diverse UK economy such as steel and aerospace.  These affect the livelihoods of thousands of people, and today many jobs are still at great risk when the Chancellor had a real opportunity to provide the security needed.

“It is unclear why the Chancellor has decided that viable jobs are those that are currently able to work at least a third of their hours.  Many businesses, especially in the arts and also where many jobs will not currently be able work a third of normal hours, would still likely be sustainable in the long run.”

“ … we will continue to press the UK Government to take bolder steps to assuring our economic recovery and supporting future prosperity for businesses and people across the UK.”

Ford Bridgend. Picture by Bethaan Sayed on Twitter

Plaid Cymru press for government action following Ford closure

Plaid Cymru Shadow Minister for the Economy, Helen Mary Jones MS, has called for Welsh Government to “ensure that the people of Bridgend are not forgotten” as the Ford engine plant closes today.

Ford has received £116m in taxpayer funding for the site since it opened in 1980 and over the last 10 years it is estimated the plant has brought £3bn into the local economy.

Over 1,600 people worked at the plant prior to its closure being confirmed in June last year.

“This is indeed a sad day for Bridgend. After over 40 years the Ford Factory is closing. Our thoughts are with the workers and their families this morning,” Helen Mary Jones MS said.

“It is now incumbent on Welsh Government to ensure that the people of Bridgend are not forgotten. We talk about building back better after Covid-19 – the time has now come to put these words in action and begin exploring how investment in the green industry can be put to use in Bridgend. Years of working at Ford mean that there is a highly skilled workforce ready to go. It would be a tragedy to see these skills put to waste.

“The current devolution settlement cannot cope with the economics of Covid-19 nor the hard Brexit that is imminent. We need an expansion of economic powers devolved to Wales, especially increased capacity for the Welsh Government to borrow to invest our way to recovery.”

Caerphilly Town Centre. Photo by Dylan_MG, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Caerphilly lockdown extended into October

Local restrictions in Caerphilly borough have been extended for at least a week following a review by the government and health officials.

Additional measures were put in place on 8 September following a sharp rise of coronavirus infections in the local area.

Although the number of cases is now going down, Health Minister Vaughan Gething has decided against easing the restrictions for now.

Mr Gething said: “Cases of coronavirus have declined steadily since the restrictions were introduced in Caerphilly borough two weeks ago. I would like to thank residents for all their hard work and their efforts to help control the spread of this infectious virus. Compliance with the restrictions has been very high.

“However, we still have some way to go. Rates of infection remain high in the borough – above the levels we would want to see. After discussing the situation with the local authority, we have decided to leave the restrictions in place for at least a further seven days.

“If we continue to see a further reduction in cases in the borough, we hope we will be able to consider relaxing the local restrictions.”

Covid testing centre. Photo by Tim Dennell is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

New testing centre for Pontypridd

A new walk-through coronavirus testing site opens at the University of South Wales in Pontypridd today.

The site is based at the university’s student car park at the Treforest Campus, and is part of a Welsh Government agreement with the UK Government to create 12 local testing sites (LTS) in Wales which will increase testing capacity.

The first tranche of local testing sites will be rolled out between September and October and will be based near universities across Wales, including Cardiff, Swansea and Bangor.

Each of these new sites will provide access to testing for returning students and local residents.

Testing will only be available for people with coronavirus symptoms – a high temperature, a new, continuous cough, or a loss or change to sense of smell or taste.

Minister for Health and Social Services, Vaughan Gething said: “Testing is critical in our fight against coronavirus, with Rhondda Cynon Taf and surrounding areas currently subject to local restrictions, it is important people are able to access testing to ensure we can stop the spread and also to understand the infection rate in the area.”

Tests at the new centre can be booked by calling 119 or online at gov.wales/coronavirus

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