News in brief: New Covid variant detected in Wales
Health officials have confirmed eight people in Wales have tested positive for the Indian variant of coronavirus.
The new mutation was first identified in India last month and has been designated a Variant Under Investigation (VUI) by researchers.
The Indian government describes the variant as a “double mutant”, suggesting that it had formed as a hybrid of two other strains.
Researchers fear the new variant may be more infectious and harder for the immune system to target.
The first cases in the UK were detected last week after 77 people tested positive, 74 in England and three in Scotland.
India has reported over 150,000 Covid cases a day for the past three weeks and was added to the “red list” of countries from which travellers are prohibited from entering the UK without undergoing a period of quarantine, on Monday.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson also cancelled a trip to India for trade talks later this month due to the surge in cases.
Dr Giri Shankar of Public Health Wales confirmed all eight cases in Wales were people who had either returned from India or were their “close household contacts”.
Intergovernmental talks continue over Covid vaccine shortages
Health Minister Vaughan Gething says talks are ongoing with the UK Government about the current shortages of Covid vaccines and paid tribute to those involved in the rollout of the vaccine in Wales since the programme commenced in December.
Last week US pharmaceutical company Moderna, warned it was struggling to supply the number of doses originally ordered because of issues with increasing production at its European plant in Switzerland.
Wales is due to receive just over 3% of the 17 million doses ordered by the UK Government, and it had been hoped that the introduction of the Moderna jab would help fill the gap left by a shortage of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
Last month a delay in shipping five million doses of the vaccine from India to the UK was confirmed and supplies are not expected to fully recover until early summer.
A total of 100 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab have been ordered by the UK Government, along with 40 million Pfizer jabs.
Mr Gething acknowledged, “Supply is the limiting factor in our programme. We are aware of an expected reduction to the supply of Moderna vaccine to the UK. We are working through what this means for our programme in Wales.
“We will continue discussions with the UK Government with a focus on ensuring we meet the milestones in our national strategy.”
“It is testament to the hard work of our NHS and all those working on the vaccination programme that we are maintaining the best first dose vaccination rate in the UK, he added.
“A greater proportion of people in Wales have had both doses of the vaccine in Wales than in any other part of the UK. Last week we were ranked third in the world – behind only the United Arab Emirates and Israel.”
Since the mass vaccination programme started in Wales on 8 December, over two thirds of the adult population have had a first dose, a total of 1,712,372 people, according to the latest figures from Public Health Wales, and 622,513 people have had both doses and are fully vaccinated.
PHW also reports no further deaths due to Covid in the last 24 hours and 64 new cases of the virus.
Cardiff, with 10 people testing positive for the virus, was the only local authority in Wales to record a double digit increases in cases since yesterday’s report.
Swansea continues to report the highest weekly case rate in Wales at 27.1 down from 29.2 per 100,000 people yesterday. Gwynedd has the highest positive test percentage in the country at 3.1% per 100,000 tests.
The national case rate now stands at 15.2 with 13 of 22 local authorities recording case rates below the statistically significant threshold of 15. The positive test proportion remains at 1.7%.
Welsh candidate falls six votes short of winning spot on FIFA council
Laura McAllister has failed in her bid to secure election to the FIFA council.
McAllister, who is currently Professor of Public Policy and Governance of Wales at Cardiff University, was nominated by the FAW for the position of UEFA’s designated female representative on the council of the football’s world governing body but fell just six votes short of securing the post.
“I’m obviously disappointed with the result, although we knew it was always going to be an extremely difficult task to unseat an incumbent, she said following the vote.
“The fact that we were just six votes short of winning the election is hopefully testament to the modern, professional and football-focused campaign that we ran.
“My commitment to our beautiful game and its core values remains as strong as ever and I will redouble my efforts to make football a game for everyone to enjoy. I hope I can stand for election again as my enthusiasm to drive change is undiminished.
“I’d also like to congratulate Evelina Christillin on her re-election and wish her all the best for the important work that lies ahead.”
Professor McAllister is a former chair of Sport Wales and board member of UK Sport and earned 24 caps international caps for Wales between 1994 and 2001.
The English, Scottish and Northern Irish football associations also supported her nomination.
Absentee landlords blamed for ‘dilapidated’ shops in town centres
Liam Randall, local democracy reporter
Absentee landlords have been blamed for causing problems with empty shops in Flintshire’s town centres.
It follows senior councillors backing plans to use enforcement powers to bring derelict properties back into use.
Members of Flintshire Council’s ruling cabinet discussed a report yesterday which shows the decline of high streets in the county has been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic.
It warns that “dramatically reduced” spending in shops is likely to continue when the pandemic is over, leading to an increase in vacant units.
During a discussion on proposals to address the situation, Cllr Chris Bithell, the council’s cabinet member for planning, said the issue had been caused by shops being owned by companies located elsewhere in the UK.
As a result, he said many landlords did not care about the condition of their properties.
Speaking at the virtual cabinet meeting, he said: “The report highlights the problems that we have in terms of absentee landlords.
“Many of our properties in our town centres are owned by companies which are based in Leeds, London or Manchester, with little interest in the properties apart from getting a cheque at the end of the month.
“They don’t tend to look after the property and some of them are looking a bit dilapidated to say the least.
“I was wondering whether we do have powers as a local authority to take over some of the more dire examples of buildings falling into dilapidation to take them over and bring them back into good use in the interests of the community and the town centres themselves.”
The report presented to cabinet members sets out a number of proposals to revive ailing shopping areas, including the use of enforcement powers to tackle long-standing vacant properties.
Officials said blocks of town centre units could be bought up and demolished to be replaced by housing or turned into green space, while smaller shopping centres could also be purchased by the council to redevelop them.
The authority is also looking to develop a community ownership model to ensure shops are used for the benefit of local people.
Approximately £1.5m worth of repayable funding has been made available by the Welsh Government to fund the projects in Flintshire.
However, a senior officer advised councillors the process to deliver the changes could be complicated.
Andrew Farrow, chief officer for economy, said: “The support package that we can access from Welsh Government advises us in terms of enforcement powers, and there’s a training package that sits behind that.
“I’m not going to tell you it’s straightforward but because sometimes it can be extremely complex.
“Part of this is putting the time and resources aside to understand the complexities and trying to unpick them.
“That’s what the two job posts that we’re recruiting to will assist with and hopefully that gives you assurance.”
Cabinet members agreed to back the measures aimed at regenerating town centres at the end of the meeting.