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News in brief: Restrictions on indoor gatherings could be eased for Christmas

14 Nov 2020 9 minute read
Picture by Pikist

Health Minister Vaughan Gething has hinted that ongoing talks between the four UK nations over arrangements for the Christmas holiday could see an easing of restrictions on gatherings indoors.

Talks between the four governments got underway earlier this month with the aim of establishing a UK-wide set of rules on family gatherings and travel over the festive period.

The current advice from the Welsh Government is that other than in very limited circumstances, nobody other than members of your extended household should enter your home or garden.

The Minister confirmed there are concerns that increased travel could lead to an increase in Covid cases, but added:  “We’re looking at whether we can do things about the number of people who can meet indoors together.”

“Whether you celebrate Christmas as a religious event or not, and many of us don’t, it’s still a time of year where people want to gather together and it’s often more difficult to do so outdoors than in.

“So we’re looking at a range of things to try to come up with the most common route possible to give people some advice and some guidance as to how to keep themselves and their loved-ones safe.”

Meanwhile, as reports suggest a big increase in footfall in shopping centres across Wales since the end of the firebreak lockdown last Sunday, health officials are asking for people to change their shopping habits in the run up to Christmas.

In a written statement Dr Robin Howe, Incident Director for  Coronavirus response at Public Health Wales, said: “We understand that people will want to carry on with their Christmas shopping now the fire-break has ended and so we would suggest to try to visit shops during off-peak times, to always maintain social distancing and to wear a face covering if you can.

“Options such as ‘click and collect’ or online purchasing may also be something to consider.”

Latest figured from Public Health Wales have confirmed a further 20 deaths due to Covid-19 and 923 new cases of the virus in the last 24 hours.

13 of the deaths reported by PHW were in the Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board area.

Cardiff (113) recorded the highest number of new positive tests in Wales, followed by Swansea (107) and Rhondda Cynon Taf (103).

Merthyr Tydfil remains the area with the highest infection rate at 346.5 per 100,000 but this represents a drop of 55% since the middle of last week when the rate in Merthyr was 770, the highest in the UK.

Neath Port Talbot currently has the highest positive test proportion in Wales at 19.9% per 100,000 tests.

Port Talbot steelworks. Photo by Steven Vacher, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

UK Government urged to protect Port Talbot steelworks jobs

Economy Minister Ken Skates has called on the UK Government to take action to protect the future of Port Talbot steelworks after its owner Tata Steel confirmed it was looking to sell part of its European arm and make its UK business, based mainly in Port Talbot, “self-sustaining”.

In August Tata played down reports that the company was up for sale following the breakdown of bailout talks with the UK Government.

Over 8,000 people in the UK work for Tata and 4,000 of those are employed at Port Talbot, the largest steelworks in the UK.

The company had been seeking several hundred million pounds of financial support and offered a stake in the company in an effort to secure funds from the government’s Project Birch scheme, a programme that was launched to help “strategically important” companies that have taken a severe financial hit due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the Financial Times, citing unnamed sources, talks between the UK Treasury and Tata Steel were halted after the government concluded the Indian multinational was sufficiently financed and didn’t qualify for taxpayer support.

Mr Skates said Tata Steel had told him they are determined to find a sustainable future for operations in the UK and to safeguard the 8,000 workforce most of which is in Wales.

“The First Minister is seeking urgent talks with the Prime Minister and I will speak to the Secretary of State for BEIS and the Secretary of State for Wales to call for urgent action,” he added.

“The industry is now waiting for the UK Government to take immediate action to safeguard the sector and protect jobs. Every day they are not at the table is another day lost for workers and for an industry of strategic importance.

“Welsh Government has offered significant support to Tata over the years to make sure steel continues to have a future in Wales. We will do all we can to protect the future of the industry but we need the UK Government to act decisively and now do the same. It’s imperative that we retain an indigenous steel sector to meet the challenges of not being part of the EU.”

Calls have been made to protect the future of Tata’s Port Talbot steelworks after its owners said it was looking to sell part of its European arm.

Stephen Kinnock, MP for Aberavon, told BBC Radio Wales it was “time for a partnership” between Tata Steel and the government and said Tata’s decision “puts the spotlight very firmly on the UK government that has to now step up and provide support to the British steel industry”.

Picture by Stux

Businesses warned to prepare for end of EU transition

Economy Minister Ken Skates has written to tens of thousands of businesses in Wales urging them to make sure they are taking the necessary steps to prepare for the end of the EU transition period.

From 1 January 2021, the UK will have left the EU Single Market meaning businesses in Wales will no longer have access to the frictionless trade in goods or services with EU member states.

The minister says there are steps businesses must take now and that this is irrespective of whether the UK achieves a trade agreement with the EU and also reiterated that the Welsh Government will continue to do all it can to support and advise businesses through these challenging times.

This includes the newly relaunched Business Wales EU Transition Portal which provides advice and guidance for businesses preparing for European transition, and the Preparing Wales and Business Wales websites which are being regularly updated.

“This year has been incredibly difficult for our businesses. Managing the effects of Covid-19 has been a huge challenge in itself and with just 50 days of the year remaining, Welsh firms must also ensure they are prepared for the end of the EU transition period,” Mr Skates said.

“Over the last 18 months we have provided additional investment to help companies train staff, explore options and navigate the challenges associated with the UK’s exit from the EU.

“To support this, we recently announced £100 million worth of business development grant funding aimed at specifically helping businesses to prepare for long term challenges associated with life post-Covid and life outside the EU. While it has been necessary to pause the application process for these grants due to the high volume of applications received, we are actively considering how we can provide further support to businesses.

“From 1 January, the way we trade with the in the EU will be different and this is true with or without a deal. It’s crucial that companies take action now to prepare themselves for the different conditions that we know 2021 will bring.”

To prepare for the end of the transition period, the minister is urging businesses to:

  • Check if they need a licence to import or export goods or if there will be changes to labelling and marking standards.
  • Review commodity codes and ensure correct ones are being used to avoid delays at the border and ensure correct duties are paid.
  • Ensure Incoterms® are negotiated at contract stage to avoid hold-ups at the border. These are the international standardised terms used in contracts which define the basic responsibilities of the parties for the goods at each point during the transit process.
  • Sign up for the Trader Support Scheme if they are moving goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This will guide businesses through any changes associated with the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
  • Establish whether or not ECMT permits are needed for any haulier journeys from 1 January 2021. The deadline to apply for an ECMT permit for 2021 is 20 November 2020.

The government is also offering tailored advice to businesses engaged in international trade through its Business Wales website or helpline.

Cardboard. Photo by Jon Moore on Unsplash

Applications open for new green fund

A new £3.5 million round of the Circular Economy Fund for public bodies for post-Covid response and a green recovery in Wales has opened for applications.

Following two previous rounds, the additional funding will support publicly funded bodies to deliver capital projects to support a green recovery and help accelerate Wales’ shift towards a circular economy – by keeping materials in circulation for as long as possible and avoiding waste.

The latest £3.5m funding round is open for applications until 1 December and runs in parallel with the first round of the £13m fund to support repair and reuse activities in town centres.

Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths said: “We are immensely proud of our recycling record in Wales and ambitious in wanting to build on this success. This funding is important in reducing waste and emissions as we move towards a low carbon, Circular Economy.

“The Covid 19 pandemic highlighted the growing importance of recycling to our economy and the role the circular economy has as a key part of a green recovery. By shortening supply chains, we can boost economic resilience, and by keeping resources in use, we can take advantage of new economic opportunities. It will not only bring economic benefits, but also bring benefits for our environment and our communities.”

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