News in brief: New figures reveal a 28% fall in Welsh Covid cases in the last two weeks
The latest study released by the Office of National Statics reports a big drop in the number of people testing positive for Covid-19 in Wales.
Over the two weeks up to 3 April 3,800 people in Wales tested positive for the virus, the equivalent of 1 in 800 of the population, a fall of 28% from the previous report, which include data for the week ending 27 March and estimated that 5,300 people had Covid-19 equating to around 1 in 570 people.
Infection rates also fell in Scotland, where the ONS estimates that 13,000 people in Scotland were infected over the 14 days covered by the study, a fall of 22% from the previous report and the equivalent of 1 in 410 people.
In England, the number of infections jumped by 9% from 148,100 to 161,900 – 1 in 340 people and in Northern the study suggests Ireland 1 in 300 people had the virus with number of infections falling from 8,200 to 6100.
The ONS says that because of the relatively small number of tests and a low number of positives in Wales and Northern Ireland, the margin of error is greater and “differences between the central estimates within and between nations may appear smaller or more exaggerated than they really are.”
Meanwhile, Public Health Wales reports one further deaths due to Covid and 114 new cases in today’s update.
The newly recorded death was in the Cardiff and Vale health boards area.
Cardiff (28) and Swansea (10) had the highest number of new cases over the last 24 hours and have the highest weekly case rates and positive test proportions in the country.
The capital also currently has the highest weekly case rate in Wales at 38.7, an increase from 37.1 per 100,000 people yesterday and the highest test rate at 3.9% per 100,000 tests.
In Swansea, the case rate has fallen from 35.2 to 33.2 and the positive test rate is unchanged at 3.8%.
The national case rate is down from 21.1 yesterday to 20.4 and the weekly test rate remains steady at 2.2%.
Tories call on government to speed up the lifting of Covid restrictions
The Welsh Conservatives have described yesterday’s announcement that some Covid-19 restrictions in Wales will be relaxed sooner than expected as “a U-turn” and called for an acceleration of the easing of lockdown.
First Minister Mark Drakeford confirmed people will be able to form an extended household, visit the gym or take part in organised outdoor activities a week earlier than planned, as cases of new infections continue to fall across Wales, and vaccination rates increase.
Mr Drakeford said the planned opening date for organised outdoor activities and outdoor wedding receptions will be moved forward to Monday 26 April from 3 May.
And, from Monday 3 May, a week earlier than previously signalled, gyms, leisure centres and fitness facilities will be able to reopen for individual or one-to-one training. Extended households will also be allowed again, enabling two households to meet and have contact indoors.
The government says the measures are being introduced sooner than planned because cases have fallen markedly from 37 cases per 100,000 people to fewer than 21 per 100,000 this week.
“The great British vaccination programme is protecting more and more lives every day and gives us the ability to restore freedoms in a safe but accelerated manner,” Welsh Conservative Senedd leader, Andrew RT Davies said.
“Pressure from the Welsh public and Welsh Conservatives have forced Labour ministers to act, but there is still more they can do in accelerating the roadmap with the safe resumption of activities such as outdoor hospitality and gyms.
“It’s clear with Labour it’s all about the politics, never the science, but the Welsh Conservatives have a detailed roadmap out of lockdown to end the political games. We will continue to protect lives through vaccination, and importantly get Wales on the road to recovery.”
Liberty Steel’s cash-strapped parent company faces legal action in Australia
Concern is growing about the future of Liberty Steel after reports that two companies in Australia that are also part of the GFG Alliance conglomerate are facing winding up orders.
Liberty Steel is the third largest steel company in the UK and employs over 200 workers at its plant in Newport.
GFG Alliance has been struggling to survive since the collapse of its main financier Greensill Capital, which fell into administration last month, forcing Liberty to pause production at some of its UK plants to conserve money.
The UK Government subsequently rejected a plea from the company for a £170 million emergency loan last month.
Greensill was placed under administration in March and its funds were frozen by financial services group Credit Suisse, leaving GFG with a need to refinance its assets.
Earlier this week Credit Suisse trustee Citibank filed a winding-up order in the New South Wales Supreme Court for GFG-owned OneSteel Manufacturing and Tahmoor Coal.
A spokesperson for GFG said the notice was unnecessary as the group was close to reaching agreement on a refinancing package.
“GFG confirms it has received multiple offers of finance from large investment funds and is in advanced due diligence,” the company spokesperson said.
“The term sheets as currently proposed would provide enough cash to repay the creditors of MPS. GFG Alliance expects the confirmatory due diligence to be complete within weeks before a final offer is accepted.
GFG owner Sanjeev Gupta has vowed not to shut down any of his steel plants in the UK, despite the financial crisis currently engulfing the business.
In an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme last month, Mr Gupta said he was “committed” to his UK plants, and said he had received interest from a number of financiers offering to refinance the business.
“None of my steel plants under my watch will be shut down for sure,” he said.
After the bid for government support was rejected, UK business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng described Liberty Steel as a “really important national asset”.
“We are custodians of taxpayers’ money, and there were concerns over the very opaque structure of the GFG Group and we feel that if we gave the money, there is no guarantee that that money would stay in the UK and protect British jobs. It’s a multinational enterprise,” he added.
“All options are on the table. We think the steel industry has a future in the UK.”
Many of Liberty Steel’s assets were part of Tata Steel’s UK business until they were purchased for £100m in 2017.
Future of Swansea field hospital ‘under review’
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
THE owner of a film studio on the outskirts of Swansea where a 1,000-bed field hospital was created from scratch has extended his rent-free offer to the health board.
Businessman Roy Thomas initially handed over part of the sprawling Bay Studios site off Fabian Way for the new field hospital for 12 months but has now allowed Swansea Bay University Health Board to use it rent-free for 16 months.
Mr Thomas said the two parties have agreed “a very reasonable commercial deal” when the 16 months elapse at the beginning of August.
The field hospital was created inside the huge Elba building by Swansea Council on behalf of the health board at a cost of around £18 million.
The Elba was where rear axles for Ford cars and vans had been manufactured and assembled for years. Before that it was a steel and tinplate works.
The field hospital hasn’t been used for patients during the Covid pandemic as hospitals in the region have had sufficient capacity.
Initially it was used for antibody testing, while its main role now is as the mass vaccination centre for Swansea and Neath Port Talbot.
Mr Thomas, who has had his first jab there, said: “It’s terrifically well run, and incredibly efficient.”
The health board’s interim director of finance, Darren Griffiths, said the health board was extremely grateful to Mr Thomas for his support during the pandemic.
“Fortunately, we haven’t had to use the facility as an out-and-out field hospital but it has been put to good use as an invaluable location for a phlebotomy service, which helped reduce footfall on hospital sites, and, most notably, a mass vaccination centre,” said Mr Griffiths.
“Since commissioning the facility we have consistently retained the capability to utilise it as a field hospital should it be required.
“The future of the facility is currently under review within the health board and we are in contact with Mr Thomas regarding how we will work on this in partnership together.”
Meanwhile, some production work has taken place at Bay Studios in recent months.
Mr Thomas said the team behind The Loneliest Boy in the World – a film due for release next year – was based there for eight weeks, with filming taking place in Llansteffan, Carmarthenshire, and on Crymlyn Burrows beach.
He said he was determined to attract more productions to the area.
“It’s my dream to build up the industry at Bay Studios,” he said.