News in brief: No timetable yet for pubs to reopen in Wales
Pubs in Wales are unlikely to get the green light to start re-opening until the middle of April at the earliest.
Pubs were shut across Wales for March to July last year as the Covid pandemic struck and after a staggered reopening, all pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes were subsequently ordered to stop serving alcohol and told to close by 6pm on 4 December as coronavirus cases surged across the country.
In the run up to Christmas the current lockdown was put in place, forcing them to shut up shop again.
First Minister Mark Drakeford indicated yesterday that following the latest review of the Government’s Covid restrictions some businesses, including non-essential retailers may be able to start reopening from next month.
Mr Drakeford also said talks were in place about opening parts of the tourism sector in time for Easter but disclosed there was currently no timetable for pubs and bars to start welcoming back customers, despite meeting with industry leaders on Thursday.
“Of course we listen to, and engage and talk with, the sector but I just have to explain to them, as I do to many other businesses who are of course desperately anxious to resume, that the only way we will succeed in getting them back trading is if we approach the reopening of our economy and our society in a way that is careful, that is step-by-step and allows us always to review the impact of any action we take on the circulation of the virus,” he said.
“Too much too soon will simply return us to the very difficult days we saw… before Christmas.
The hospitality industry has claimed it has been unfairly blamed for the spike in cases last autumn, but a report from Stirling University, published this week has raised doubts over whether pub operators can effectively prevent coronavirus transmission on their premises.
The study highlighted problems with social distancing “which frequently involved alcohol intoxication and were rarely effectively stopped by staff.”
Announcing the closure of pubs in December, the First Minister said: “When people meet together in a hospitality setting, you’re not just having a glancing encounter with somebody as you do if you’re going round a supermarket,” he said.
“You’re sitting together with people for a significant period of time, and the evidence I’m afraid is just there.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce pubs in England can start to open at the end of April at a press conference on Monday.
A further 16 people have died with Covid-19 and 363 people have tested positive for the virus, according to the latest figures released by Public Health Wales.
Six of the newly recorded deaths were in the Swansea Bay health board area, there were three in both Cardiff and Vale and Hywel Dda and two were reported in Cwm Taf Morgannwg.
Both Aneurin Bevan and Betsi Cadwaladr health boards reported one new death each.
The weekly case rate in Wales is 83.1 per 100,000 people, down from 83.9 per 100,000 people, yesterday and the positive test proportion is 7.9% per 100,000 tests, the same as yesterday.
Flintshire is the local authority with the highest rates in the country at 118.5, down from 121.7 per 100,000 of the population yesterday. It also has the highest positive test percentage at 11.3% over the week.
New fines announced for travel breaches
Health minister Vaughan Gething has announced new measures which require travellers entering Wales from non-exempt countries to book and pay for coronavirus tests to be taken on the second and sixth days after arriving in the country.
From today, operators of international passenger services coming to Wales from outside the common travel area are required to inform passengers before they travel of the new duty to arrange post arrival tests in accordance with the International Travel Regulations.
Operators are also required to provide information in relation to quarantine requirements that apply elsewhere in the UK when they check-in 24 to 48 hours prior to travelling and are required to ensure an on-board announcement is made during journeys into Wales so that passengers are provided with up-t0-date date information on the public health restrictions that will apply upon their arrival.
In addition, travel operators must ensure that passengers travelling are in possession of a negative coronavirus test result and haven’t been in a red list country in the previous 10 days.
Operators in breach of the regulations could face prosecution or a fixed penalty notice set at £1,000 for each separate offence.
Tribute paid to farming communities 20 years on from foot and mouth devastation
Janet Finch-Saunders MS, Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, has paid tribute to the resilience of Welsh farmers and drawn parallels between the current Covid pandemic and the impact foot and mouth disease had on rural communities in Wales 20 years ago.
From February to September 2001 over one million animals were slaughtered as the disease spread rapidly across the country. Powys, Anglesey and Monmouthshire were particularly hard hit as 35 per cent of Wales was put under restrictions.
Farmers lost up to £90 million due to the outbreak which also severely affected the tourist industry in Wales.
“In 2001, foot and mouth disease plunged Welsh and British agriculture and rural tourism into a crisis from which some businesses and people never recovered, and there some parallels between that crisis and the one Covid has brought us, Mrs Finch-Saunders said.
“We saw just how fast years and sometimes generations of work could be wiped out, and those of us who at other times find ourselves fortunate enough to live in or near rural areas saw the devastation the measures taken to prevent spread of foot and mouth had on animals and lives.
“Yes, farmers did res-tock and normality returned, but people were changed. Families were changed. Businesses changed. Nothing was quite the same again.
“Maybe it’s an instinctive thing in people, but I certainly try to take some sort of positive from a crisis.
“The positives I can think of are that those without much knowledge of rural Wales learnt more about it and how intrinsic it is to our country, and that it reinforced just how fragile the farming life is, and how much we depend on our farmers.”
Deal close for sale of Festival Park shopping centre
Saul Cooke-Black, local democracy reporter
Ebbw Vale’s Festival Park shopping centre could be sold to new owners in the coming weeks, the asset managers of the site have said.
Metis Real Estate say that the terms of a sale have been agreed for the retail site, which hosted the final UK Garden Festival in 1992.
Blaenau Gwent council previously considered trying to buy the site to secure its future, but since abandoned the plan.
Paul Jones, of asset managers Metis Real Estate, said he is hopeful of a sale being completed in the coming weeks.
“We are in the process of selling the site,” Mr Jones said.
“We are progressing with a buyer and have been for a while because things understandably take longer due to the current situation.
“But hopefully in the next few weeks there will be a successful sale.”
Mr Jones said “a new owner looking to invest” will be taking on the site and that he hoped it would be “a new start” for the shopping centre.
“It would be a good thing for everybody down there if the site can be brought back into economic use,” he said.