News in brief: New data confirms early signs of Covid infections rising in Wales
Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics point to the early signs of an increase in the number of people testing positive for Covid-19 in Wales.
ONS studies have mapped a steady decline in the number of infections in recent weeks but over the seven days ending 29 May an estimated 2,900 people within the community population had the virus, equating to around 1 in 1,050 people, compared to an estimate of 800 infections (1 in 3,850 people) the previous week.
According to the ONS there has been a significant increase in cases of the Alpha (Kent variant) in Wales, while a rise in cases in both England and Scotland appear to be fuelled by the growing number of cases of the Delta (Indian) variant.
In England 1 in 640 people are estimated to be infected with Covid, an increase from 1 in 1,120 people last week and in Scotland the proportion is around 1 in 630 people up from 1 in 680 people.
Infections in Northern Ireland are down slightly from 1 in 820 to 1 in 800.
Speaking at today’s government press briefing, First Minister Mark Drakeford said coronavirus rates in Wales continue to be “very low” and confirmed there have been no new deaths recorded by Public Health Wales in the past nine days but warned further cases of the Delta variant in Wales were inevitable.
“There are now more than 10,700 confirmed cases in England, largely linked to eight areas of the country, mainly in the north-west, he said.
“There are a further 1,500 cases in Scotland.
“It has quickly become the dominant form the virus in new cases recorded in both Scotland and England.
“If that pattern continues, it is important to say to everybody here today, we will not be immune from it here in Wales.
Mr Drakeford also revealed around 300 people in Conwy County have been told to quarantine as health officials attempt to bring the Covid cluster in Llandudno, Llandudno Junction and Penrhyn Bay under control.
Forty-one case of the Delta variant have been identified in the last three days and 53 of the 99 cases have been found in Conwy.
On Friday morning another two cases of the variant were confirmed in Porthmadog, with residents in the area told to get tested if they have symptoms of the coronavirus.
The Delta variant has replaced the Alpha variant as the dominant Covid mutation in the UK after being first identified in April.
Research indicates the variant is up to 50% more transmissible than the Alpha variant, vaccines are less effective, and it is more likely to lead to hospitalisations.
The latest data released by Public Health England confirms cases of the variant have risen to 12,431 up from 6,959 over the last seven days.
Meanwhile, today’s figures from Public Health Wales have confirmed no new deaths involving Covid for the eighth day in a row and 71 new positive tests for the virus.
Seven local authorities recorded no new cases for the virus since yesterday’s report but three council areas covered by the Betsi Cadwaladr health board, where a cluster of the Delta variant was first detected last Friday, currently have the highest weekly rates in Wales.
Conwy recorded another seven confirmed infections, and the weekly case rate has increased to 23.0 per 100,000 of the population, up from 22.2 yesterday, while Denbighshire and Wrexham both have a rate of 12.5.
Gwynedd, which is also covered by Betsi Cadwaladr, had nine positive tests in the last 24 hours and recorded the highest number of new cases in Wales for the second day in a row.
The national case rate has risen 0.5 to 8.0 since yesterday’s report and the test rate is unchanged at 0.9% per 100,000 tests.
Report calls for transport lessons to be learnt from the pandemic
A new report has called for the prioritisation of active travel and public transport to cut people’s exposure to air pollution.
The paper, recently published by a team from the Health Protection Division at Public Health Wales, in collaboration with colleagues from Public Health England, looked at how exposure to air pollution varied for people using different modes of transport, and concluded that learning lessons from the Covid pandemic could result in the long term reduction of urban air pollution
“How we travel affects the extent to which we are exposed to air pollution and this study aimed to look at how exposure varied for people walking, cycling, driving or using public transport,” Dr Sarah J Jones, Consultant in Environmental Public Health for the Health Protection said.
“In some cases, people in cars were exposed to more pollutants, in others, it was people who were cycling who were more exposed. Lots of factors affect this, for example, where cycle lanes and footpaths are and how fresh air is drawn into cars. But we also found that people who walk, cycle and use public transport are healthier than those who drive.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has led to many changes in the way we travel and it is important that we continue to support as many people as possible to use active transport and public transport, particularly for short, around town type journeys, so that we can improve our air quality for everyone.”
Other key findings included:
- Higher concentrations of air pollutants were often experienced in car commuters compared to cycling and walking
- Pedestrians and cyclists were generally exposed to lower concentrations of air pollution when using routes separated from motorised traffic;
- Pollution concentrations for all transport modes depend upon the proximity to high volumes of motor traffic, with pollutant concentrations being highest at busy traffic junctions
- Air pollution was greater during morning rush hours than afternoon rush hours and that non-rush hour concentrations were the lowest
- Considering wider, long-term public health and environmental benefits, every effort should be made to prioritise active travel and public transport and enable more people to use these modes.
The paper reviewed studies that measured pollutant concentrations in urban settings published between January 2016 and July 2020 and has been published by the Journal of Transport and Health.
Council produce draft climate emergency action plan
Emily Gill, local democracy reporter
Torfaen council has released its draft climate emergency action plan, which sets out the council’s approach to becoming carbon neutral by 2030.
In June 2019, the council declared a climate emergency and agreed to focus on how it could achieve net zero carbon emissions.
In short, this means finding a balance between the amount of emissions produced and the amount stored or offset.
The draft action plan sets out what needs to be done to achieve this goal.
The plan says carbon dioxide emissions in the county borough have already decreased by 37 per cent between 2005 and 2018 from 667.1 kilotonnes per year to 420.1 kilotonnes.
There are several key issues that the council needs to tackle in order to become carbon neutral.
Energy and water efficiency
The plan says the council will “work with building managers to identify water efficiency improvements in council buildings, including schools”.
The council plans to set targets for reducing emissions and use the Welsh Government’s toolkit to help understand their current emissions.
The plan also includes encouraging communities to use less energy and water.
The council will increase the amount of renewable energy it generates.
This can be done by benefiting from solar or wind power, for example.
Building quality will be improved and there will be a development of local renewable energy schemes. This will be put into the council’s local development plan, which decides what developments are built throughout the county borough and where.
Mobility and transport
The council’s plan for transport is to deliver on the commitments of the Gwent public sector Healthy Travel Charter 2020-23.
This includes reviewing the council’s travel expenses policy to encourage sustainable travel like walking and cycling.
The council will also offer the cycle to work scheme for all staff, improve access to bicycles at work and increase the availability and uptake of remote conferencing.
Improving electric vehicle infrastructure both with the council’s sites and for future developments in the county borough is also a priority.
EU nationals urged to apply for settlement scheme before the end of June
EU citizens are being urged to take-up the free support on offer from Welsh Government to complete their application for settled status in the UK before the end of the month.
The Home Office’s EU Settlement Scheme offers EU, non-EU EEA and Swiss citizens, and their eligible family members the opportunity to protect their residency following the UK’s departure from the EU.
EU Citizens must apply to the scheme ahead of the 30 June deadline to ensure they remain legally resident in the UK and continue to have access to all the rights they are entitled to.
“EU citizens living in Wales make an enormous contribution to our economy and society – you are welcome here” Minister for Social Justice, Jane Hutt, said.
“With less than 30 days left to apply for Settled Status, I really want to urge anyone who has not yet applied to do so. There’s lots of free support out there to help you, no matter your circumstance or where you are in Wales.”
“We remain concerned about the number of vulnerable and older EU citizens who may not have applied yet. If you have a friend or family member who needs to apply, please help them to access the support available,” she added.