News in brief: NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect reaches over 90% of Covid contacts
A new study from the Senedd’s Research unit, in collaboration with Swansea University, reports that over 90% of positive Covid cases and close contacts have been successfully traced by NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect, since the service was set up last June.
In Wales, after receiving a positive test result for Covid-19, people are asked to support the Test, Trace, Protect service by reporting their recent contacts to the local contact tracer so they can be notified to self-isolate (and take a test if they too are displaying symptoms), to help stop the spread of the virus.
The system is a joint effort between the Welsh Government, Public Health Wales and local authorities and currently employs close to 2,400 people working in local and regional contact tracing teams across Wales.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), which advises both the UK and Welsh Governments, has suggested that for a contact tracing system to be effective, it needs to trace around 80% of contacts of an index case.
Over the last eight months over 156,860 (99%) positive cases and 350,987 (92%) close contacts have been successfully traced by the programme in Wales.
In the most recent week covered by the study from 24 – 30 January, of the 4,008 positive cases that were eligible for follow-up, 3,832 (96%) were reached and asked to provide details of their recent contacts and of the 8,762 close contacts eligible for follow-up, 7,864 (90%) were successfully contacted and advised accordingly, or had their case otherwise resolved.
In addition, of those positive cases, 90% were reached within 24 hours of referral, along with 81% of close contacts.
The report notes the performance of the contact tracing system varies from week to week, with an increase in positive cases putting pressure on the system and recommends improvements to the programme, including:
- Greater consistency in communications between contact tracers and those being asked to self-isolate, for example in terms of time-to-contact (consistently low, ideally within 1-2 days) and in terms of the frequency of subsequent contacts (consistently high, ideally daily).
- All those required to self-isolate should be asked about their financial situation and, where relevant, given specific information on support for applying for self-isolation payments or other forms of financial assistance.
- Contact tracers should consistently enquire into the mental and emotional wellbeing of all those asked to self-isolate and should provide resources and links for available and relevant mental health support.
- People who do not feel they have the capability, opportunity or motivation to adhere to self-isolation need to be systematically identified and provided with support resources to help them adhere.
The study combined quantitative questionnaires with qualitative interviews conducted in December 2020 and January 2021.
Meanwhile, a further 27 people have died due to Covid-19 and 410 new cases of the virus have been confirmed in the latest update from Public Health Wales.
Over 28,000 people received their first Covid vaccine dose yesterday, taking the total to 684,097 since the rollout began in December.
Of the newly reported deaths, six were recorded in both the Betsi Cadwaladr health board and Cwm Taf Morgannwg.
Hywel Dda and Cardiff and Vale health board both recorded four deaths since yesterday’s report.
Wrexham (206.7) is the only area in Wales with a weekly case rate of over 200 cases 100,000 people and it also has the highest positive test proportion at 13.8% per 100,000 tests
Across Wales the case rate has dropped from 111.4 yesterday to 107.4 and the weekly positive test rate is down from 9.3% to 9.1.
Bill to manage Senedd election approved
An emergency bill to ensure the next Senedd election can take place in May despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, has been approved by Members of the Senedd.
The bill also addresses the risk of there being an extended period where the Senedd cannot meet if it is dissolved as normal, on 7 April, and the election could not proceed on 6 May because of the pandemic.
The Welsh Government has stressed that the election should go ahead on 6 May as intended and everybody should prepare on that basis but the legislation makes it possible to delay polling day should the pandemic present a serious threat to public health and the conduct of the election.
The bill will become law following Royal Assent, which is anticipated in the coming weeks.
Minister for Housing and Local Government, Julie James said: ”Given the unpredictable nature of the virus, there is significant uncertainty about what the public health situation will be like in May. That’s why we’ve acted now to respond to the potential risks to the election arising from the pandemic.
“The bill Members of the Senedd have approved today, by a large majority, will help ensure people can exercise their democratic right to vote in the election, but to do so in a safe and secure way.
“The Welsh Government appreciates the huge efforts being made by the staff who run our elections to ensure it can be held safely on Thursday 6 May.”
Decision to reject proposals for new rail service from Cardiff ‘regrettable’
Welsh Liberal Democrats leader Jane Dodds says the decision to reject plans for a new rail service to Paddington, “will disadvantage passengers and only lead to higher fares and less choice.”
Grand Union Trains wanted to run up to seven daily return services between Cardiff Central and Paddington from December and hoped to extend services to Carmarthen from December 2023.
Industry regulator the Office of Rail and Road rejected the proposals because of a financial forecast which suggested it would have cost millions to the Department for Transport, as well as Great Western Railway, which currently runs services between Cardiff Central and Paddington.
The regulator also cited uncertainty over the economic recovery and passenger demand because of the Covid pandemic in the decision.
“This is a regrettable decision which will disadvantage passengers and only lead to higher fares and less choice,” the Lib Dems leader said.
“If we are to meet our obligations and aspirations on reducing carbon emissions we need to be encouraging people out of their cars and onto public transport, this decision will do the opposite.”
Grand Union Trains managing director Ian Yeowart said the decision had come as a “shock”, adding:
“We are not going to accept the decision as it is because it is not right.”
“Our lawyers are looking at it to see how we progress.”
Funding boost for students with Additional Learning Needs
The Welsh Government has announced £9.8 million of support for learners with Additional Learning Needs.
£8.8m of the new package will be provided to local authorities, including funding for special schools, with £1m for young people in further education.
The pandemic has led to delays in some young people being assessed for their additional learning needs, due to social distancing and coronavirus restrictions.
Local authorities will be able to use the funding to clear backlogs for assessments, enabling learners to return to education more quickly.
The funding can also be used to fund additional costs associated with blended learning, including one-to-one support, and the costs of specialist software.
The funding will also be used to meet costs such as additional classes, where these are needed to keep learners and staff safe, and services such as occupational therapy. Local authorities will also be able to extend mental health and wellbeing support for learners adversely impacted by Covid.
Special schools have been able to remain open throughout the pandemic. As part of the Covid-19 Vaccination programme, the Welsh Government plans for staff providing personal care to the most clinically vulnerable learners in special schools to be offered vaccinations by the end of February.
“Covid-19 has created challenges for all our learners, but particularly those with Additional Learning Needs, their families and staff who support them,” Education Minister Kirsty Williams said.
“This funding will help young people return to or begin their learning journey. It includes support for young people in further education, by helping them complete their courses this year and progress to the next stage in their adult lives.”