News in brief: ‘Sobering milestone’ marked as Covid death toll passes 5,000
A further 12 people have died with Covid and 610 people have tested positive for the virus, according to the latest figures from Public Health Wales.
Today’s deaths take the total since the start of the pandemic in March last year to 5,001.
Speaking at today’s government press briefing, Health Minister Vaughan Gething apologised “for every single life that has been lost”.
“I’m deeply sorry for every single life that’s been lost, every family that’s been affected,” Mr Gething said.
Those that died were not “just numbers” he added “These are people who are loved and valued and leave others behind.”
Dr Giri Shankar, Incident Director for the Covid-19 outbreak response at Public Health Wales, described the death toll as “a sobering milestone”.
“There have now been 5,000 deaths of people with Coronavirus in Wales reported to Public Health Wales.
“That’s one life lost every 90 minutes since March last year. 5,000 families grieving. We offer our sincere condolences to everyone who has lost someone.”
The daily figures released by Public Health Wales only include the deaths of a hospital patients or care home resident where COVID-19 has been confirmed with a positive laboratory test and the clinician suspects this was a causative factor in the death.
The total number of deaths occurring involving Covid-19 in Wales according to the Office for National Statistics is 6,473 people up to and including the week ending 22 January.
Deaths counted by the ONS are when Covid-19 is mentioned by doctors on the death certificate and which occur in all settings – including hospitals, care homes, hospices and people’s homes.
Four of the newly record deaths were in the Betsi Cadwaladr health board area and there were three in Hywel Dda. Cwm Taf Morgannwg and Aneurin Bevan each reported two deaths, while Swansea Bay reported one.
603,976 have received their first dose of one of the three vaccines being rolled out in Wales, up 14,354 since yesterday.
Cardiff (80) had the highest number of new cases since yesterday’s report, followed by Rhondda Cynon Taf (55). Carmarthenshire, Conwy and Wrexham each recorded 38.
Flintshire has the highest weekly case rate in Wales at 231.9% per 100,000 and also has the highest positive test percentage at 16% per 100,000 tests.
The overall case rate in Wales over the last seven days is 116.4 and the positive test rate is 9.8%. the lowest since the second week of October last year.
Tories criticise government over nuclear site buyout reports
The Welsh Conservatives have criticised the government’s handling of large-scale projects and say it should not be trying to buy the Wylfa nuclear power station site.
According to a report in The Sunday Times yesterday, the Welsh Government is making a last-ditch attempt to salvage the nuclear power project on Anglesey and has approached Japanese industrial giant Hitachi for talks about acquiring the project and its staff to keep the project alive in a caretaker role until a developer can be found.
Hitachi pulled the plug on plans to build nuclear power plants in the UK in September, after writing off £2 billion.
Following the report, Shadow Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, Janet Finch-Saunders, accused the government of squandering hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on projects including £100 million on “propping up” Cardiff Airport and the £157 million spent on the M4 relief road inquiry.
“Welsh Conservatives are strong advocates of nuclear energy to transition from fossil fuels to greener forms of power and have been disappointed as plans for the Wylfa site have seen setback after setback, especially the news last month that Horizon Nuclear Power had decided to withdraw its application to develop a nuclear power plant there,” Mrs Finch-Saunders said.
“While we maintain that the Anglesey site is ideal for a nuclear power plant, I’d urge caution over – if accurate – reports that the Welsh Government is considering taking over the project. Its track record on major projects has been patchy to say the least.”
“The decision by Hitachi to pull out of the £20-bilion Wylfa project, which would have generated up to 850 jobs was a blow for North Wales, and while we still want the project to go ahead in some form, it can’t be left to a Labour-led government – with its scandalously poor history of large-scale projects – to manage.”
The Welsh Government told The Sunday Times: “While we will not comment on speculation, we remain convinced that Wylfa Newydd is one of the best sites for a new nuclear development in Europe and continue to discuss potential ways forward with both Hitachi and Horizon.”
The business department said: “We remain open to discussing new nuclear projects with any viable companies and investors wishing to develop sites across the UK, including in north Wales.”
Home Secretary urged to close Penally Asylum Camp
The Liberal Democrats have written to Home Secretary Priti Patel urging her to close the Penally asylum seekers camp in Pembrokeshire.
The Penally army barracks were repurposed in September to hold up to 500 asylum seekers but it’s estimated that just over 120 men are currently housed in the camp.
Lawyers have argued that the conditions in the camps are unlawful because they breach Covid-19 guidelines and place residents at risk of suffering from “degrading” treatment due to unhygienic conditions and a lack of access to medical care.
The letter signed by six Welsh Liberal Democrat Peers and Lib Dem spokesperson for devolved affairs Wendy Chamberlain MP also calls for the closure of the Napier barracks in Kent, which is also used to house asylum seekers.
The signatories write: “Housing asylum seekers in accommodation which is not fit for purpose is unacceptable. Clearly, asylum seekers at the camp must be transferred to appropriate accommodation as soon as possible.
“We therefore ask you to set out urgent timescales for the transfer of asylum seekers out of Penally Camp to more suitable accommodation.
“The reports of the conditions at Penally and Napier are incredibly concerning. The Home Office must urgently publish its assessments on the use of the camps, including its reports on Infection Controls, including for Covid-19 – along with its assessments on Fire, Evacuation Controls, and Equality Impact.
“Your department must also publish its rapid review of asylum accommodation and its internal evaluation of asylum support provision in Penally.
“We would urge you to abandon this cruel policy of housing asylum seekers in unsuitable accommodation.”
Wendy Chamberlain MP added: “I am deeply concerned by the conditions which exist both at Penally in Pembrokeshire and in Napier barracks in Kent. We should all be very worried by reports that the camps fail to meet basic standard of health and hygiene – and the news of Covid-19 outbreaks raises further serious questions over the Home Office’s actions.
“It’s therefore vital that the Home Office publish its assessments on the use of the camps – including its reports on Infection Controls for Covid-19 as well Equality Impact, as soon as possible. There a huge unanswered questions about how this callous treatment of asylum seekers has been allowed to take place.”
In a written statement last week, Jane Hutt, Deputy Minister and Chief Whip in the Welsh Government, said Penally is “unsafe and must close urgently”, adding: “The decision to use the Penally camp has undermined our ability to implement an effective migrant integration policy, as set out in our Nation of Sanctuary plan.
“Responsibility for the asylum system is reserved to the UK Government but the Welsh Government is responsible for integration, community cohesion, local government and the health system – all areas which have been impacted negatively by the Penally site implementation.
“We need a full exploration of how the asylum system should operate in a devolved context and, for that reason, Welsh Ministers intend to act as an Interested Party in any Judicial Review cases which arise from occupants of the Penally camp.”
£29 million extra support announced for FE students
The Welsh Government has announced an extra £29 million for colleges, including £26.5 million to support learners on vocational learning programmes.
The funding will be used to support learners in completing their vocational qualifications this academic year.
An extra £2.5 million will also support Welsh colleges and private training providers provide additional mental health support in recognition of the increased mental wellness issues as a result of the pandemic.
The funding is in addition to £23 million announced by the Welsh Government to support colleges in July.
Last Friday the government confirmed that some vocational learners will return to college after the half term break.
There are around 50,000 learners in Wales currently undertaking vocational qualifications.
Learners studying “licence to practice” qualifications, including apprentices, will be in the first priority group to return, so that they can access the facilities and equipment necessary for their courses.
Education Minister Kirsty Williams said: ”It’s important we take action to support this year’s students, so they can go on to their next stage of education, training or work as they had planned. We are working with colleges to plan a safe, socially distanced return for the vocational students who need it most.”