News in brief: New coronavirus testing centre for Rhondda Cynon Taf as infections edge up

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

Public Health Wales has reported 102 new cases of coronavirus in today’s update but warned the figures don’t include some results from the UK-wide Lighthouse labs testing system which is having technical problems. Once resolved those figures will be added in tomorrow.

Caerphilly, where a local lockdown was imposed on Tuesday evening, recorded 34 new cases, taking the weekly total in the area to 165, lifting the infection rate to 91.1 per 100,000 people in the area.

Health Officials are continuing to monitor the situation in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhondda Cynon Taf amid speculation they could be the next areas in Wales to see a local lockdown put in place.

Nine new cases have been reported in Rhondda Cynon Taf by PHW and three in Merthyr.

Over the last seven days Rhondda Cynon Taf has recorded 90 infections as the proportion of infections has risen to 37.3 per 100,000 of the population.

The infection rate in Merthyr is currently 54.7 per 100,000 for the week, second only to Caerphilly and the number of positive test results per 100,000 is 6.7%, the highest in Wales.

Dr Robin Howe, Incident Director for the coronavirus outbreak response at PHW has announced that due to the recent rise in the number of infections in the Lower Rhondda area, Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board, working in partnership with Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council will be setting up a temporary testing centre at Oldway House car park, Porth, from today.

“This testing facility is intended for people living in the Rhondda Cynon Taf area only,” he said.

“It is important that you only attend if you have COVID-19 symptoms – a new continuous cough, a high temperature or a loss of or change to your normal sense of smell or taste.”

Appointment can be made here.

Meanwhile, the Chief Medical Officer for Wales, Dr Frank Atherton, has reassured people that were previously shielding they are not being advised to do so at present despite the recent rise of cases.

Around 130,000 people in Wales were advised to take shielding measures following the start of the pandemic because they were are at high risk of developing serious illness if they contracted the virus.

From 16 August people in the shielding group were given the green light to return to work or to school and go shopping but were warned they should continue to take steps to protect themselves from coronavirus by maintaining social distancing and washing their hands frequently.

Dr Atherton said: “To those previously shielding and are worried about the rise in coronavirus cases in Wales: My advice remains the same, even to those within Caerphilly County Borough. You do not need to shield again. It’s important we don’t ask you to shield unless absolutely necessary.”

The total number of infections dating back to February is 18,931. There were 7,799 tests carried out across Wales yesterday.

No further deaths have been reported by PHW. The total number of deaths due to the virus remains 1,597.

Darren Millar. Picture by Llywelyn2000 (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Shadow minister dismisses opposition to ‘power grab’ bill

Welsh Conservative Shadow Brexit Minister, Darren Millar MS, has defended the UK Government’s controversial UK Internal Market Bill, accusing opponents of the legislation of “utter claptrap”.

The bill published yesterday will give the UK Government new spending powers that will enable them to ignore the Welsh Government’s wishes and directly fund projects in Wales.

It will also force Wales and Scotland to accept whatever new standards on food, environment and animal welfare are agreed by the UK Government in post-Brexit trade deals.

First Minister Mark Drakeford slammed the bill as an “enormous power grab” which the Welsh Government will oppose “every step of the way”.

Veteran Conservative MS David Melding resigned from the shadow cabinet yesterday due to his concerns about the consequences of the bill.

He said that he had believed that the union was in danger and that the publishing of the bill had done “nothing to lessen my anxieties”.

“Indeed they have been gravely aggravated by the decisions made in the last few days by the Prime Minister,” he added.

Defending the bill, Mr Millar said: “This is an important piece of legislation that will safeguard trade between Wales and other parts of the UK while maintaining standards, as well as employment and environmental protections.

“At the last election Boris Johnson pledged to get Brexit done and devolve more powers to Wales; this bill delivers on that promise.”

“Given that these powers were previously exercised in Brussels the argument that today’s move amounts to a power grab is utter claptrap as those who are expressing synthetic rage well know.”

A train passess Castell Coch near Cradiff. Picture: Train Photos (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Government presses for devolution of rail transport

Ken Skates, Minister for Transport, Economy and North Wales, has called on Westminster to complete its review of rail travel, and devolve powers over rail transport to the Welsh Government, after outlining proposals for improving public transport in south-east Wales to tackle congestion and improve transport links in the region.

In July, the South East Wales Transport Commission published a report, noting the need for an integrated network of alternative transport options that do not depend on the motorway.

Responding to that report today, the government backed the need for sustainable, long-term alternatives to the private car.

Part of this response includes proposals that would see a major upgrade of the South Wales Main Line in terms of capacity, line speed, rolling stock and widespread electrification – leading to improvements to journey times

The proposals also include plans for infrastructure improvements in the north.

Mr Skates said: “We are committed to delivering our responsibilities for buses, road improvements and active travel.

“The UK Government must now complete its long delayed rail review, fully devolve rail matters to Wales, and deliver a fair funding settlement so we can start to rectify the years of historic under-investment by Westminster in the rail network in Wales.”

Photo by Mabel Amber from Pixabay

Work on Llandeilo bypass delayed until 2025

Work on a £50 million bypass of Llandeilo in Carmarthenshire has been pushed back to 2025. The original timetable would have seen work start by the end of 2019 and was pushed back to 2022 earlier this year.

The Welsh Government blamed working restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic, but Plaid Cymru accused Labour of breaching a joint agreement in 2016 to construct the bypass.

Adam Price MS (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr) said: “To face another delay on this project is completely unacceptable – particularly as air pollution levels are higher than the national standards, and the problem will be only be getting worse.”

Children at school. Picture by Lucélia Ribeiro (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Dedicated Children’s Minister needed to ensure children’s rights are properly considered

Education & Young People Committee
Children’s Rights in Wales (pdf)
Published: 26th August 2020

  • Committee recommends a dedicated Ministerial role for Children & Young People and that the Welsh Cabinet should undertake children’s rights training.
  • Children’s Commissioner: Wales should aim to achieve the best international standards in children’s rights.
  • Committee recommends the Senedd should appoint and fund the Children’s Commissioner.
  • Low levels of awareness of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“There is a lack of reference to children’s rights in key strategic documents and insufficient evidence that the duties in the Measure are being considered and exercised across the whole of the Welsh Government.

“This demonstrates to us that children’s rights are not driving the Welsh Government’s decision-making as the (Rights of Children & Young Persons Measure 2011) intended.”
– Committee Chair, Lynne Neagle MS (Lab, Torfaen)

The inquiry was post-legislative scrutiny focusing on the effectiveness of the Rights of Children & Young Persons Measure 2011 which enshrined the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in Welsh law. There are 54 articles granting children, amongst other things, a right to education and a right to protection from abuse and discrimination.

Measure makes a positive influence on decision-making but children’s rights are increasingly invisible

The Committee was told of several examples where the Measure has resulted in a positive impact, notably a “right to play”.

Children’s Commissioner, Prof. Sally Holland, is proud of Wales’ record on children’s rights, but instead of comparing ourselves to the rest of the UK, thought Wales would be better placed aiming to achieve the “very best international standards”.

However, there is little mention of children’s rights in key government strategy documents such as Prosperity for All, with fears that child-specific policies were being dropped in favour of all-age inclusive ones. Similarly, Child Rights Impact Assessments – when they are carried out – lacked depth and failed to properly engage young people in the process.

Know your rights

65% of people who took part in the 2017-18 National Survey hadn’t heard of children’s rights and only 13% had a thorough understanding of what the UNCRC meant. There was broad agreement that awareness needs to be improved.

Contrary to the popular trope of misbehaving children “knowing their rights”, awareness of the UNCRC amongst children and young people was low-to-variable with schools doing little to promote it and a general misunderstanding of how rights are applied in practice.

In terms of listening to young people, the Committee was proud that the Welsh Youth Parliament was established in 2018. Significant steps were also being taken to ensure young people had a say on policy matters which directly affected them, such as the new national curriculum and mental health.

In a series of workshops, children said they were particularly concerned about their rights when it came to exposure to drugs, bullying, dealing with the criminal justice system and social barriers caused by poverty (i.e. being unable to take part in school trips).

 

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