News in brief: Plans to fully reopen schools limited by new variant’s spread
Wales’ Deputy Chief Medical Officer says options over the wider reopening of schools have been limited by concerns over the new Covid variants that have been detected in Wales over recent weeks.
Education Minister Kirsty Williams announced at today’s press briefing that foundation phase school children will return to school after half term but said conditions were not yet right for a full return to school for everyone and refused to commit to a full return by Easter.
Referring to the latest guidance from the government’s Technical Advisory Group, Dr Chris Jones said: “We are clear that the ability to relax the current restrictions remains limited by the presence of the new variant, which is more transmissible than before.”
“However, with R currently below 1, there is some headroom for a phased return of primary school children, who have a lower risk of infection but who are at risk of harm while not in school.
“To enable restrictions to be eased in any way, we need to see positive trends in a range of data.
“I am pleased to say that case numbers, levels of community transmission and test positivity rates are decreasing. “
“Keeping the reproduction number – the R rate – below 1 is an important measure in allowing a return to more face-to face learning.
“SAGE estimates R to be currently between 0.7 and 0.9.
“It compares well to the position in the summer and is significantly down from the period before Christmas.”
The TAG report released today, confirms the Kent strain of Covid is now the dominant variant in Wales, accounting for up to 70% of new cases, and warns “there is still uncertainty around how much more transmissible this variant is but our understanding is improving”
“This uncertainty means there is not yet the evidence to identify whether further opening schools for face-to-face learning for all students would lead to healthcare in Wales being overwhelmed at this time.
“Decreasing pressure on NHS services before more face-to-face teaching begins would give a greater margin of error if schools operations create societal conditions for the new variant to grow exponentially.”
“A partial and phased return to face-to-face learning in schools should be considered as this is likely to increase rates of transmission less swiftly than a full return. The transition should be monitored carefully before further changes are made.
“Current infection prevention and control measures should be reviewed to consider how these could be strengthened in light of the increased prevalence of a more transmissible variant.
“The impact of these changes on transmission will need to be carefully monitored so that, if necessary, restrictions can be re-imposed swiftly.”
According to the latest figures from Public Health Wales, the seven-day case rate now stands at 129.8 per 100,000 people, up slightly from 126.5 yesterday. Today’s report also shows in increase in the positive test proportion from 10.8% yesterday to 11% per 100,000 tests.
PHW also confirmed 45 further deaths with coronavirus and 399 new positive tests for the virus.
There were 21 newly reported deaths in the Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board area and seven in Betsi Cadwaladr. Cardiff and Vale area reported five further deaths and there were four in both Aneurin Bevan and Swansea Bay.
Wrexham has the highest weekly case rate in Wales at 309.7 and the highest positive test rate at 20.3%.
Flintshire (48) recorded most new cases over the last 24 hours, followed by Wrexham (44) and Cardiff (29).
Businesses urged to register for financial support
Businesses are being urged to ensure they are registered for financial support to help them deal with the ongoing impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
Last month, the Welsh Government announced an additional £200 million package to support firms through to the end of March. This takes Welsh Government’s overall business support package from December to March to £650 million.
The financial package is predominantly for businesses that pay non-domestic rates and have been forced to close or operate differently as a result of coronavirus restrictions.
As businesses need to have registered with their local authorities in October or later in order to receive the payments, Welsh Government is urging firms that have not yet done so to take action so they do not miss out.
Under the support package, eligible businesses with a rates value of less than £12,000, such as a small hairdressers or florists, would be entitled to receive £6,000 for the December to March period.
Firms with a rateable value below £150,000, for example a clothes shop, a restaurant or a gym, would be entitled to £10,000 for the same period of time. The money is to help cover costs like rent, utilities and insurance.
This funding is on top of support from Welsh Government’s £180 million sector specific fund for tourism, tourism and hospitality businesses which received more than 8,000 applications before closing, as planned, on 29 January. It is also in addition to income support offered by the UK Government such as the Job Retention Scheme and Self Employment Income Support Scheme.
Businesses that have received a payment via their local authority since the firebreak in October do not need to take further action.
However, Welsh Government estimates that there are thousands of eligible businesses that might not yet have registered for this support.
Businesses who have not registered with their local authorities since the firebreak in October should visit the Business Wales website for more information on doing so.
Welsh Government signs Memorandum of Understanding with nuclear plant consortium
The Welsh Government has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Sizewell C Consortium, an organisation of almost 200 businesses and trade unions from the UK nuclear supply chain focused on the nuclear power plant being planned for the Sizewell site in Suffolk.
The government claims the MoU could potentially see an investment of up to £900 million in the Welsh nuclear supply chain and up to 4,700 jobs supported across Wales, if the power station is given the go-ahead.
EDF Energy, the French company that is currently building the Hinkley C plant in Somerset, has been in talks with the UK Government about the construction of the new power plant since December.
At the point when construction of the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant in Somerset nears completion, this MOU sets out the opportunity for Welsh businesses to be part of the supply chain for the next build at Sizewell C.
Ken Skates, Economy Minister, said: “Wales has a strong history of nuclear expertise and know-how. A number of businesses across the country are now established parts of the global nuclear supply chain and they are now poised to benefit should Sizewell C be given the go-ahead.
“While we have recently had disappointing news about Wylfa Newydd, we remain committed to that project and the supply chain. This MOU shows how the Welsh expertise in the nuclear industry is in demand and can be used across the UK and further afield.”