News in brief: Over 90,000 pupils absent from schools in Wales over the last week of summer term
Almost a quarter of pupils in Wales were absent from school in the last full week of term, according to the latest figures released by the Welsh Government.
Between 12-16 July, over 90,000 children and teens missed school including 33,800 pupils (8.6%) who were absent for Covid-related reasons.
Secondary schools recorded an absenteeism rate of 13%, just over double the rate of 6% recorded in primary schools.
Overall attendance in the latest week ranged from 68.9% in Denbighshire, which has the highest Covid case rate in Wales, to 82.3% in Monmouthshire.
The national average was 77% – down from 88.4% over the previous four weeks.
Some parents are believed to have kept children at home to avoid holidays being disrupted if they were instructed to self-isolate due to an infection within their school contact group.
Since schools reopened fully after Easter, 45% of all pupils, have missed more than a week of school and 56,000 (12%) have been out of class for more than a week for a Covid related reason.
Last month Education Minister Jeremy Miles announced that from September Covid-safety measures would be decided locally by schools, in concert with local incident management teams and said there is “a case” for under-18s not having to self-isolate if a close contact tested positive for Covid.
Six Covid deaths recorded as case rates continue to fall.
Public Health Wales has reported the highest number of deaths due to Covid-19 in over three months.
Six people have died and 588 have tested positive for the virus since yesterday’s report, taking the total number of deaths in Wales since the start of the pandemic to 5,603.
Three of the newly recorded deaths were in the Betsi Cadwaladr health board area and the were also two deaths reported in Aneurin Bevan and one in Hywel Dda.
The national case rate has dropped for the seventh day in a row and is currently 156.9 per 100,000 people over the last week, down 7.5 since yesterday as Anglesey, Carmarthenshire, Gwynedd, Neath Port Talbot and Pembrokeshire recorded weekly case rates under 100.
The case rate in Denbighshire remains the highest in Wales at 423.2, down from 455.6 yesterday and the weekly positivity rate has gone down by 0.7% to 17.1% per 100,000 tests.
Chief Medical Officer rules out return of shielding advice
Wales’ Chief Medical Officer says that advice to the clinically extremely vulnerable will not be changing despite the recent rise in coronavirus cases and the lifting of most Covid restrictions.
Advice to follow shielding measures was paused in April and since then those on the shielding patient list have been advised that they should follow the same rules as everyone else but should take extra care to minimise their risk of exposure.
In a written statement, Eluned Morgan, Minister for Health and Social Services said Dr Frank Atherton, “is keen to ensure that we balance the risk of harm from coronavirus with the risk of harm to an individual’s mental health”
“He has indicated that he does not expect to have to advise ‘shielding’ again in the future, based on current evidence, she added.
Recognising the concern of some of those previously shielding at the recent increase in Covid cases, Dr Atherton will be writing to all those on the shielding patient list enclosing information about vaccine effectiveness and encouraging those who have not yet had a jab to do so.
The minister also confirmed the shielding patient list will be maintained at the present time but the Chief Medical Officers of the four UK nations are keeping the shielding list under review, and “it may be possible that in future some conditions or groups may be removed from the shielding list.”
Welcoming the news that there were no plans to reintroduce shielding, Conservative Shadow Health Minister Russell George MS, said: “The Chief Medical Officer’s confidence is encouraging news that shows the vaccine is working and weakening the link between infections and hospitalisations.
“We should remember that shielding can have numerous detrimental effects on those subject to it. It is an extreme safety measure that shouldn’t be deployed unless absolutely necessary.
“This latest statement from the CMO puts us one more step forward on the path to freedom.”
Around 130,000 people in Wales were advised to take shielding measures at the start of the pandemic last year because they were at high risk of developing serious illness if they contracted Covid-19.
Backing secured for new Energy ‘park’ plans
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
Plans for an energy park to help de-carbonise the power supply while preventing blackouts could get the go-ahead next week in Swansea.
The facility would be built on grazing land near Felindre and comprise batteries, inverters and other equipment within a 109m by 100m compound.
Swansea Council’s planning committee will consider an officer recommendation for approval at a meeting on August 3.
Applicant Statkraft UK Ltd has described the proposal, which won’t generate any electricity of its own and take around 10 months to build, as a greener grid park.
A planning report said: “The proposal is essentially for an electricity storage and distribution facility which is designed to balance electricity demand and supply in order to prevent shortages and blackouts as a result of the intermittent nature of renewable energy sources, which, in the case of solar and wind energy, are dictated by weather conditions.”
Planning officers said the main issues to consider related to the principle of the development in the location, impacts upon visual amenity including the wider landscape, residential amenity, highway safety, and the environment.
Welsh Government policy said decision-makers must give significant weight to the need for Wales to meet climate change commitments and the target of generating 70% of its electricity by renewable means by 2030.
Major grid investment will be needed as heating, transport and power generation becomes de-carbonised, in turn ramping up demand for low-carbon electricity.
Proposals for new storage facilities should be supported wherever possible, according to planning policy.
Swansea planning officers said the proposed development “will clearly have a utilitarian appearance derived from the sheer scale of the main building” and the industrial appearance of the transformer units.
However, landscaping is proposed and adjacent to the site is an existing National Grid substation, gas compressor station, and overhead power lines.
The overall visual impact, said the officer report, would not be so significant as to recommend refusal of the application.
Consent has previously been granted by a UK minister for a gas-fired power station to the east of the site, including part of the access to the proposed development.
The company behind this approved project, Abergelli Power Ltd, has raised concerns about elements of the greener grid park.
But it said that the two projects could co-exist and share a new access road, subject to several matters being resolved.