News in brief: New figures estimate 48% decline in Covid rates in Wales

Picture by John Jones (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Covid-19 infection rates are falling in Wales according to the latest report from the Office for National Statistics.

The data suggests positivity rates peaked around the end of October, with rates decreasing over the past two weeks.

During the most recent week covered by the figures (8 November to 14 November) it’s estimated that 18,400 people in Wales had Covid-19, a decline of 48% on the previous week, the equivalent of 1 in 165 people

Across the UK for the same period the figure was 1 in 80 people in England, 1 in 155 in Scotland and 1 in 135 in Northern Ireland.

The ONS estimated 35,300 people had Covid-19 the previous week (31 October to 6 November), 1 in 85 of the population.

The Welsh Government introduced a 17-day national “firebreak” lockdown on 23 October following a sharp increase in cases from September and the tightened restrictions were eased on 9 November.

Speaking at Friday’s press briefing First Minister Mark Drakeford said the fall in the number of cases and the percentage of positive tests being returned suggested there was “good evidence” the 17-day firebreak had worked, but warned people not to let their guard down.

“If people react to the end of the fire-break as though coronavirus is over and there’s nothing more we need to do, then it’s very likely indeed that we will see coronavirus come flooding back into our communities, and then we will be faced with another series of difficult decisions, he said.

Public Health Wales has confirmed a further 31 people have died because of Covid-19 and 1,020 people have tested positive for the virus in the last 24 hours.

According to the PHW figures, there have been 2,338 deaths since the start of the pandemic and 70,517 people have tested positive for the virus.

Swansea recorded 123 new positive tests since yesterday, the highest number in the country, followed by Cardiff with 115 and 108 in Rhondda Cynon Taf.

Blaenau Gwent has the highest weekly infection rate in Wales at 365 up from 356.4 per 100,000 of the population yesterday, and the highest positive test proportion at 18.1% per 100,000 tests.

Teacher wearing a face mask. Photo by Alexandra Koch from Pixabay

Government urged to introduce mass testing in schools.

The Welsh Government’s Technical Advisory Group (TAG) has advised ministers to consider introducing asymptomatic Covid-19 tests in schools following new evidence of higher levels of infection and transmission in school based age groups than previously recognised, a higher rate of asymptomatic transmission, and children are more likely to be the first case in a household.

Close to 50% of schools in Wales have reported confirmed cases of the virus since the start of the new term in September.

In its latest review TAG recommends: “Consideration should be given to exploring the feasibility of mass asymptomatic testing programmes in school and college settings to enhance infection control and maintain confidence of students, parents and staff.

“The development of any testing programme should take into consideration background infection rates, the full spectrum of available testing technologies, the context of community, testing and balance of strategic priority and testing capacity.”

Students at universities in Wales have already been urged to take a test, whether they have symptoms or not, before they travel home for Christmas.

Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash

Covoronavirus outbreak declared at Llangollen care home

A Covid outbreak has been declared at a care home in Llangollen where 15 people have died in the last three weeks.

56 cases have been confirmed among residents and 33 staff have also tested positive for the virus at Llangollen Fechan Care Home.

An incident management team is investigating the cause of the outbreak and movement of staff and residents is being restricted to help reduce transmission.

Nicola Stubbins, co-chair of the incident management team, involving Denbighshire County Council, Public Health Wales and Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, said: “We would like to assure all concerned that control measures have been put in place working jointly with the care home, including limiting the movement of staff and residents to reduce transmission.

“Our thoughts and condolences are with all affected and we remain committed to working together to address the situation.

“Anyone who meets the definition of a contact will be contacted as a routine part of the Test, Trace and Protect process and provided with additional advice for themselves, their household and other contacts.”

Photo by Ernesto Eslava from Pixabay

Interim report calls for changes to BAME education resources

Education Minister Kirsty Williams has welcomed the publication of an interim report from the working group set up to strengthen education resources relating to Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities in Wales.

The Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Communities, Contributions and Cynefin in the New Curriculum Working Group was announced in July to oversee the development of learning resources and identify gaps in current resources or training related to BAME communities, their contributions and experiences.

Prof Charlotte Williams OBE, Honorary Professor in the School of History, Philosophy and Social Sciences at Bangor University, chairs the group.

The report notes: “It is clear from the initial review of resources that there is a need to change the narrative around the teaching of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic themes. Existing resources are disproportionately focused on slavery, colonialism and Empire. This needs to be balanced with resources focusing on the wider histories of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities in Wales and on the contributions of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities in contemporary society.

“As research in England has demonstrated, teaching black history only as the history of racism can lead to Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic pupils developing a negative sense of themselves. Histories of migration might encourage a view of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people as outsiders who have moved to Wales from elsewhere rather than as a long-established part of Welsh society.”

The group’s final report, due to be published in the spring, will address wider issues including additional learning for trainee teachers studying Initial Teacher Education courses.

Kirsty Williams said:” Over the coming weeks I will be considering these recommendations in detail and I will announce my response later this year. I warmly welcome the challenges identified and potential solutions that the report offers, and it provides a context for the whole curriculum.”

Picture by Cwmcafit (CC BY-SA 4.0).

National-level Covid rules said to be easier to follow as Senedd rejects call for local restrictions in virus hot spots

  • MSs reject Plaid Cymru’s calls for a return to local lockdown-like restrictions in areas with high Covid cases.
  • Schools were “playing a bigger role in virus transmission than previously thought”; “long Covid” victims at risk of being sidelined.
  • Health Minister says national-level rules “easier to understand and to follow”; public information campaigns to be stepped up.

The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Notes the continued high prevalence of Covid-19 infection rates within the south Wales valleys, with areas experiencing some of the highest rates in the UK.
  • Notes research conducted in England showing the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on post-industrial communities in northern England and exacerbated longstanding regional disparities.
  • Calls on the Welsh Government to designate areas experiencing higher prevalence of Covid-19 as ‘special support areas’ which would be eligible for measures including:
    • additional support and voluntary accommodation for those who are clinically vulnerable and cannot work from home
    • a top-up of the self-isolation grant to £800
    • additional resources for testing; strengthened local public communication campaigns
    • additional protective measures in childcare settings, schools and on school transport, including mask wearing in classrooms
    • greater support for business and self-employed people opting to temporarily cease trading
    • dispersal orders in town centres after pub closures

While the seemingly positive effect the recent “firebreak” has had on new Covid-19 cases is welcome, Leanne Wood MS (Plaid, Rhondda) argued there was more to do to protect areas with high infection rates.

Schools were playing a bigger role in transmission than first thought, while crowded housing and an inability to work routinely from home in Valley communities have kept infection rates higher. Separate isolation facilities for adults should be considered, alongside the other proposals in the motion.

Delyth Jewell MS (Plaid, South Wales East) supported improvements to public information following initial confusion amongst the public over local lockdowns rules.

Shadow Health Minister, Andrew RT Davies (Con, South Wales Central), thought the Welsh Government now had enough financial firepower to institute measures like Covid-free hospitals and increased testing in hot-spot areas and amongst patient-facing NHS staff.

Caroline Jones MS (Ind, South Wales West) raised the plight of those with seemingly permanent life-limiting conditions arising from a Covid-19 infection, including a 28-year-old constituent who’s a dentist and may never return to work because of lung damage and chronic fatigue.

Health Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth), told members that national-level measures will be kept under review. National-level rules were easier to communicate and for people to follow. Public information campaigns are set to be strengthened over the coming days and weeks across all forms of media.

Vote

Mick Antoniw MS (Lab, Pontypridd), the Deputy Economy Minister, Lee Waters (Lab, Llanelli), as well as Environment Minister, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham), all voted for the unamended version of Plaid’s motion which was defeated 36-12 with three abstentions.

GP video consultation as part of the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board pilot.

New digital authority for the NHS to be established

The Welsh Government has announced that a new special health authority dedicated to digital infrastructure in the NHS will be spun-out from Velindre NHS Trust. In the last few years, there’s been heavy criticism of the state of NHS IT services and the government has started a reform process.

Digital Health & Care Wales (DHCW) will be operational from 1st April 2021 and former Chief Executive of Public Health Wales, Bob Hudson OBE, has been appointed interim chair.

Health Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth) said: “There remains much work to be done between now and April 2021 but I am confident, DHCW will be in place and able to make a positive impact in Wales from next year and to play its part in delivering better outcomes for patients and health professionals. “

Photo by Georg Arthur Pflueger on Unsplash

Additional well-being support made available for social care workers

Social care workers in the independent sector in Wales are to be given greater support to protect their mental well-being during the pandemic.

The emotional support, including one-to-one counselling, aims to provide easy access to well-being support for care workers who have been affected by their experiences working in the pandemic.

Many social care workers have been exposed to higher levels of stress, longer working hours and higher than usual number of deaths of the people they work with.

The scheme recognises the personal impact this has had on many workers and aims to provide more consistent support across the sector.

The Welsh Government is supporting the scheme, which is being procured and managed through Social Care Wales, with funding of up to £200,000 and will be available to around 55,000 social care workers in the independent sector.

Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services Julie Morgan said: “Social care workers play a vital role in supporting some of the most vulnerable people in our communities and within our health service. They have been at the heart of our response to the coronavirus pandemic, however the impact of their work on their own mental health during such pressurised times cannot be underestimated.”

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