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News in brief: New Indian Covid variant detected in Wales

12 May 2021 10 minute read
Microscope. Photo by Herney Gómez from Pixabay

Five cases of a new Covid variant, first identified in India, have been detected in Wales.

The variant, called B.1.617.2, is one of three closely related mutations that all appear to have originated in India.

On Friday Public Health England designated it a “variant of concern” amid early evidence that it appears to be at least as transmissible as the dominant so-called Kent variant in the UK.

There are also fears the new variant could reduce vaccine effectiveness in fighting infection.

According to the Covid-19 genomics UK consortium database, up to 7 May, there have so far been 1,393 cases of B.1.617.2, making it the second most common variant in the UK.

Across some parts of the northwest of England the variant accounts for over 50% of cases and Andy Burnham, the mayor for Greater Manchester, has said the Joint Committee for Vaccines and Immunisations is considering a request to vaccinate all over-16s in Bolton in response to the rising infection rate there.


Over the last three weeks the number of cases involving the variant have doubled, prompting some government advisors to warn of the danger of easing Covid restrictions too rapidly while the new mutation is spreading so rapidly.

Dr Robin Howe, Incident Director for the Covid-19 outbreak response at Public Health Wales, said: “The variant B.1.617.2, one of the variants first identified in India, has been designated as a Variant of Concern (VOC21APR-02) due to its high transmissibility, which is comparable to the Kent variant.

“There is no evidence of wider community transmission of this variant in Wales, and the Kent variant remains the dominant strain here.”

In April health officials confirmed eight people in Wales had tested positive for a different Indian variant of coronavirus.

The VUI -21APR-01 variant is also from the B.1.617 lineage and is described by the Indian government as a “double mutant”, suggesting that it had formed as a hybrid of two other strains.

Four further cases of this variant have been identified in Wales over the last three weeks.

Covid cases have surged in India over the last month and 4,205 people died due to the virus  yesterday. Since the start of the pandemic more than 23 million people have tested positive for Covid-19.

Meanwhile, PHW has confirmed there have been no further deaths due to coronavirus in the last 24 hours, while 22 people have tested positive for the virus.

10 local authorities reported no new cases since yesterday’s report. Gwynedd, the Vale of Glamorgan and Swansea, with three cases each had the highest number.

There have been just 288 Covid cases detected over the seven days up to 7 May. Blaenau Gwent has recorded just one case for the week and has the lowest weekly case rate in Wales at 1.4 per 100,000 people, with a positive test proportion of 0.2% per 100,000 tests.

The case rate in Newport remains the highest in the country at 28.4 with a test rate of 2.6%.

The national case rate is 8.9 and the test rate remains at 0.9% since yesterday’s update.

Rapid antigen test. Photo by Steve Nomax on Unsplash

Unpaid carers urged to use rapid Covid tests

Unpaid carers are being encouraged to use rapid Covid self-test kits to protect themselves and they people they care for.

The Welsh Government has opened up access to the lateral flow tests which can be ordered online or collected in person from locations across the country with no appointment required.

Two packs of seven rapid Covid self-test kits for home use will be delivered or made available to collect on a regular basis and it is recommended tests are undertaken twice a week (tested 3 – 4 days apart) with every result recorded on the UK government portal.

About 1 in 3 people who test positive for coronavirus do not have symptoms but can still infect others, which means asymptomatic testing is an important way to keep people safe as restrictions are easing.

Anyone with coronavirus symptoms is reminded to self-isolate and get a test by phoning 119, booking it online or via the NHS COVID-19 app.

Minister for Health and Social Services, Vaughan Gething said: “I’m pleased to announce that unpaid carers can access home testing kits either by ordering online or collecting from a convenient location. This will help to protect them and those they care for and provide reassurance as we continue to ease restrictions.”

Cllr Sam Rowlands with from left to right – Cllr Aaron Wynne, Alison Shaw (XR), Cllr Greg Robbins and Cllr Harry Saville

New MS to resign from council role on Thursday

Jez Hemming, local democracy reporter

Conwy county council’s political leader has confirmed he will resign as leader at the authority’s AGM on Thursday, after winning an unexpected regional seat in the Senedd on Friday.

Councillor Sam Rowlands, a Conservative, ascended to the position of leader in June 2019 after Cllr Gareth Jones lost a vote of no confidence and stepped down as leader in a special meeting of the full council.

Cllr Rowlands, who has been a councillor for 13 years, claimed he was sacked for trying to bring opposition members on the coalition cabinet, before triumphing over Plaid Cymru’s Wyn Ellis to become leader.

He became a regional Senedd Member late on Friday after beating Plaid Cymru’s Wrexham candidate Carrie Harper by just 21 votes under the convoluted d’Hondt system of proportional representation.

The result immediately begged questions about his future on the council.

There had been social media speculation he may stay on as leader until next year’s local elections, despite his new role in Cardiff, but he chose Conwy council’s cabinet meeting on Tuesday to put the record straight.

He said: “It’s an amazing privilege for me personally to be elected as a member of the Senedd representing North Wales, so I’m really looking forward to my five years there representing the region.

“That does mean I’m intending to resign as leader of Conwy county borough council.

“I want to thank Cllr Abdul (Khan) the chairman of the council for accepting an urgent item on Thursday at our annual general meeting to seek the election of a new leader.

“My intention is to resign immediately after the election of a new leader on Thursday.”

He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service he will remain a councillor for Abergele’s Pentre Mawr ward until next May’s local elections.

Cllr Rowlands thanked his cabinet and the council’s senior officers for their help during his two years at the helm.

He added: “It’s been the privilege of my life to lead this council – and certainly humbled that I was elected to lead this council.

“Over these two years of the pandemic I want to say a specific thank you to everyone for all their efforts through that time, in unprecedented times.

“I really believe and hope we have served our residents to the best of our abilities…have provided essential services through really difficult times.

“If you think back to 12 months ago when supermarket shelves were drying up and people couldn’t access pharmacies for their medical needs, we stepped up and stepped in to make sure our communities were properly supported.”

Photo by Georg Arthur Pflueger on Unsplash

New survey launched for people who helped their communities respond to the Covid pandemic

The Research and Evaluation Division at Public Health Wales has launched a national survey to hear from volunteers and those who have informally given up their time to help their communities respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.

PHW says it knows that record numbers of people in Wales have given up their time freely to help other people in their community, through acts like shopping, picking up medicines, cooking a meal or providing some care and emotional support but wants to better understand why people responded by helping others and what were the barriers to doing as much as they may have wanted.

The survey is hosted by Strategic Research and Insight and is open to people aged 18 years and above, living and/or working/or volunteering in Wales.

The findings will help Public Health Wales and its partners to better understand and inform their planning to improve population health in Wales. It will also help to ensure community-led volunteering can be better supported in future.

Boats moored in Conwy Harbour. Photo by kitmasterbloke is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Plans for a quayside memorial in Conwy following the Nicola Faith tragedy

Conwy’s harbour master wants a quayside memorial for lost vessels and crew in the wake of the deaths of three men aboard the Nicola Faith.

The fishing boat’s crew, Ross Ballantine, 39, Alan Minard, 20, and skipper Carl McGrath, 34, perished after the craft went missing in January this year.

A fundraising drive was launched to pay for extended searches for the vessel and crew.

The bodies of the three men were discovered at three different coastal locations in England and the vessel was located largely intact off Colwyn Bay last month.

Minutes from the last Harbour Advisory Committee, which were added to Conwy county council’s cabinet agenda this week, revealed how harbour staff had helped investigations into the tragedy.

They also revealed the results of the probe by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) would be summarised and relayed to members of the committee in “due course”.

They added “it was hoped that a memorial, possibly funded by Conwy town council, could be placed on the quay to commemorate lost vessels and crew”.

Thanks were also extended to the harbour master and team for their “hard work and assistance in the search”.

Mourners lined the streets of Llandudno on April 16 to say a last farewell to crewman Ross Ballantine, including an emotional guard of honour from the town’s lifeboat volunteers who had tried to find the men.

Mr Minard’s funeral was conducted in Penmaenmawr the day before Mr Ballantine, while more than 100 people paid their last respects to skipper Carl McGrath in Conwy the week before.

At the time of the Nicola Faith’s discovery Andrew Moll, chief inspector of marine accidents for MAIB, said: “After all the evidence has been reviewed, including video footage taken by the dive team, MAIB will make a decision on next steps.

“I understand how desperate the families of the crew are for answers, and now the vessel has been found our investigation can focus on establishing why Nicola Faith sank.

“A large amount of evidence has already been collected and analysed, and a close look at the results of (our) dive survey should increase our understanding of the accident.”

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