News in brief: Targeted vaccinations could be used to counter Indian Covid variant
New health minister Baroness Eluned Morgan says the Welsh Government would not rule out introducing a targeted vaccination programme if cases of the Indian Covid-19 variant continue to rise.
There are currently 25 cases of the variant in Wales according to PHW, up from 11 last Thursday and according to the UK Government’s figures 1,255 infections have been identified in England with spikes across areas of the north west causing particular concern.
The variant is highly transmissible and in England cases have risen by more than 75% since last Thursday. Scientists say they have a high degree of confidence that Covid vaccines remain effective against the mutation but warn they will not provide 100% protection.
On Monday, public health experts said the B.1.617.2 variant was expected to become the dominant strain in the UK within days and the UK Environment Secretary, George Eustice, told Times Radio today that local lockdowns could be introduced in England “If we do have a deterioration in some of these areas.”
“At this point in time we are allowing the health boards to use the flexibility that they already have, but of course we’ll keep an open mind if we need to change that situation to respond in particular to some community breakouts,” Baroness Morgan told BBC Wales.
“Please get your vaccine, it is the best way of protecting you from this new variant that is threatening our communities,” she added.
Last week First Minister Mark Drakeford said that he will not rule out calling on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to stop travel in and out of areas where the variant is spreading quickly, or placing restrictions on movement in and out of Wales himself.
Deaths in Wales stay below the five-year average of the 10th week in a row
New figures released by the Office for National Statistics have confirmed deaths in Wales from all causes were below the five-year average for the 10th successive week.
The data, which is for the seven days up to the week ending 7 May, includes the May Bank Holiday and as a result the ONS warns the statistics, particularly when looking at a comparison over five years should “be interpreted with caution” as the holiday takes place on different dates.
The number of deaths registered from all causes was 560, 22 fewer than the previous week and 64 (10.3%) below the five-year average.
The number of deaths involving Covid for the week decreased from seven to five, 0.9% of all deaths registered.
Since the start of the pandemic in March last year the ONS calculates there have been 44,186 deaths and of these 7,872 deaths (17.8%) mentioned Covid on the death certificate. This was 5,501 deaths above the five-year average.
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.
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.
Today’s update from PHW has confirmed no new deaths due to Covid, leaving the total since the start of the pandemic at 5,560. There have been just 32 new cases of the virus since yesterday’s report with nine of 22 local authorities recording no new infections.
Newport’s weekly case rate remains the highest in Wales at 29.7 down from 34.9 over the weekend and it also has the highest positive test proportion at 2.3 % per 100,000 tests down from 2.7%.
The national case rate has declined from 10.2 to 9.5 since yesterday and the test rate is down from 1.0%. to 0.9%.
Football fans warned against travelling to Euro 2020 group games
Football fans have been warned against travelling to Azerbaijan and Italy next month for the delayed Euro 2020 group games against Switzerland and Turkey due to Covid travel restrictions.
Both countries are currently on the UK’s amber travel list, meaning fans would be required to have a Covid test before returning to the UK and would then have to self-isolate for 10 days.
The Foreign Office has advised British nationals not to travel to countries on the amber or red lists to try to prevent new variants entering the UK.
“Due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the FCDO (the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office) has issued advice warning Cymru fans not to travel to Baku or Rome as Azerbaijan and Italy are on the UK Government’s Amber list,” an FAW statement said.
“For those fans who remain determined to travel despite the warnings, the FAW strongly advises that fans check that their travel insurance is still valid and fit for purpose,” it added.
Government attacked over lack of financial support for businesses during April
The government has been accused of leaving Welsh businesses ‘high and dry’ after failing to backdate the latest round of support for companies left struggling by Covid restrictions.
Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for the Economy, Russell George MS, says he has been contacted by several businesses complaining about the refusal to backdate financial support to cover costs in April and called on the government to swiftly act to support businesses and save jobs.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused enormous problems and Welsh businesses have been hit hard and pushed to the edge,” Mr George said.
“Regrettably, several businesses across Wales have contacted me alarmed that the latest funding support from the Welsh Labour Government does not provide any assistance for costs incurred during April.
“The lack of financial support in the weeks running up to the Senedd election was well documented and I am staggered Labour ministers have not sought to address the problem by backdating support and providing a restart grant as seen elsewhere in the UK.
“The Welsh Labour Government must rectify this serious situation immediately as businesses have been left high and dry, putting Welsh jobs at risk.”
Plans progress for new £33 million road in Swansea
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
Plans to build a new road along Swansea’s SA1 with a connecting interchange onto Fabian Way are progressing, despite the project not receiving funding from the Welsh Government this year.
Swansea Council wants the new Southern Link Road to run off Langdon Road, near Hancock and Brown builders’ merchants, through to Baldwins Bridge, near Swansea University’s Bay Campus.
It is estimated that the project, including a reconfigured bridge, would cost around £33 million and ease the pressure on Fabian Way.
Some land has already been bought up, and the council submitted a £4.6 million bid to the Welsh Government under a scheme called the Local Transport Fund to start the first phase of of the project.
A Welsh Government spokesman said the bid was turned down because a further financial commitment beyond this year was a Local Transport Fund requirement. Ministers, he said, could not guarantee this because the UK Government’s spending review only confirmed budgets for a single year.
The spokesman said £2.6 million has previously been awarded to Swansea Council to develop the scheme, and that ministers would consider future bids under the Welsh Government’s latest transport strategy.
A Swansea Council spokesman said: “The Baldwins Bridge interchange is a key element in the council’s wider plans to introduce more sustainable transport schemes which, along with improving traffic flows and and out of the city, also help to encourage better use of public transport, as well as cycling and walking.
“We are continuing our negotiations with landowners in and around the existing interchange with a view to developing a scheme which would help us achieve our aims.”
Patterns of travel have changed as numerous office workers continue to work from home on a full-time or part-time basis, but it’s too early to say how this will pan out in the long term.
Data from Traffic Wales from May 11 showed that traffic on the country’s roads was rising towards the levels seen last August, when Covid restrictions were limited and many people were on holiday.
Public transport use in the UK is back between 30% to 50% of normal.
Speaking in the Senedd in March this year, the then Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport, Lee Waters, said the Welsh Government’s latest transport strategy factored in the need to reduce emissions and that “it is not going to be consistent to return to a predict-and-provide model of road construction as a first solution to congestion”.
The Welsh Government wants 30 per cent of people across Wales to work remotely.
Mr Waters added: “But, equally, a blanket policy of simply not building new roads isn’t a solution either. There will be a case for new construction in certain circumstances and there will be a clear need to fulfil our existing statutory duty to maintain the existing road network.”