News in brief: Teenage Covid outbreak being linked to Delta variant
Jez Hemming, local democracy reporter
The head of the team investigating a Covid surge among north Wales teenagers has confirmed the incident is being treated as an outbreak of the Delta variant.
Denbighshire council confirmed yesterday there were 25 ‘linked’ cases of the virus.
The linked cases are connected to a number of gatherings and cases are being identified in a number of settings and venues, including schools.
Some of the cases linked to the increase have already been identified as the Delta variant said the authority.
The infections came after a series of gatherings of young people, including parties, brought them into close proximity.
It means 428 pupils from Ysgol Brynhyfryd in Ruthin, Denbigh High School and St Brigid’s (also in Denbigh) have been ordered to self-isolate for 14 days.
It emerged on Friday last week there were 10 linked cases of the virus but that had increased to 25 by Monday.
Chair of the county’s Incident Management Team, Nicola Stubbins, warned against complacency because of relaxed lockdown measures.
She said: “Not all cases have been confirmed as the Delta variant, but the strain is becoming the dominant variant in the UK and we are treating these connected positive tests as the Delta variant.
“The Delta variant is more transmissible and sticking to the guidelines is the best way of slowing its spread within our communities.
“Enquiries are still being made and further test results are still pending and we would like to reassure residents we are working to reduce any further spread.
“This includes offering an additional testing site in the county as well as an enhanced Test, Trace and Protect (TTP) process and 14 day self-isolation for any contacts.
“The emergence of these new cases is a reminder we should not become complacent, even as rates of the virus across Wales remain low.
“It is vital residents do not attend any gatherings which contravene Welsh Government Covid-19 guidelines and remain vigilant by following the rules, including wearing masks in indoor spaces and maintaining social distancing.”
A wider range of symptoms have been circulated for the virus after the emergence of the Delta strain (also called the Indian variant).
They include flu-like symptoms, not caused by a known condition, muscle ache or pain, excessive tiredness, persistent headache, runny nose or blocked nose, persistent sneezing, sore throat and/or hoarseness, shortness of breath or wheezing and generally feeling unwell.
Anyone displaying symptoms is being urged to book a PCR test at a mobile testing centre as soon as possible.
Ms Stubbins added: “We are also reminding those eligible and not showing symptoms to undertake regular lateral flow tests at home, which are free and can be ordered online for home delivery.
Coronavirus case rates more than double as Delta variant hits the north
Covid cases are continuing to climb, particularly across the north of the country, according to the latest figures released by Public Health Wales.
Since yesterday’s update a further 98 people have tested positive for the virus, with Conwy (15) and Denbighshire (14) reporting the highest number of new infections in the past 24 hours.
Delta variant clusters have been linked with outbreaks in both areas and Conwy has the highest weekly case rate for the seven days up to 10 June at 57.2 per 100,000 people.
Denbighshire has a case rate of 48 .1 and the highest weekly positive test proportion in Wales at 3.7% per 100,000 tests.
Flintshire’s case rate has jumped to 30.7, meaning the three local authorities with the highest rates in the country are within the Betsi Cadwaladr health board area.
The national case rate has climbed to 20.1 since yesterday’s update, more than double that recorded at the end of May and the case rate is 2.0% up from 1.8% yesterday.
Meanwhile, according to the Office for National Statistics, there were just two deaths involving Covid in Wales over the week ending 4 June, down from three the week before and accounting for just 0.4% of all deaths for the latest week.
The number of deaths registered in Wales from all causes was 464, 146 fewer than the previous week and 15.0% below the five-year average (82 fewer deaths).
Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020 the ONS calculates there have been 46,505 death and of these, 7,893 deaths (17.0%) mentioned Covid-19. This was 4,895 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. PHW has recorded 5,572 deaths due to Covid since March last year.
New programme launched to aid recovery from long Covid
Health Minister Eluned Morgan has announced £5 million of funding for a new programme helping people recovering from the long-term effects of Covid-19.
The Adferiad programme, which will be launched later this week to coincide with the release of new guidelines surrounding the treatment of long Covid, will expand the provision of diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation and care for those suffering from the long-term effects of the virus.
“In Wales we are committed to personalised treatment and rehabilitation pathways to meet people’s needs, as we believe this is the most effective way to care for those experiencing the effects of long Covid,” the minister said.
“We believe our Adferiad (Recovery) programme will be key in ensuring we are leading the way in patient care.
“By investing in the staff, infrastructure, training and tools to deliver these services, we are showing our commitment to improving the diagnosis, treatment and care of those with long Covid.”
New round of support announced for businesses hit by Covid measures
A Further £2.5 million of government support is being made available to businesses in Wales that are affected by the current Coronavirus restrictions.
Since 17 May, businesses in Wales that have been financially impacted by the ongoing measures have been able to apply for up to £25,000 in emergency support to help meet costs until the end of June.
The additional funding is now being made available due to the phased lifting of restrictions that has been put in place due to concerns about the impact of the Delta variant of Covid-19.
Support will be available for businesses that have capacity for events of more than 30 people indoors or in contained spaces and to businesses that are still closed because of ongoing restrictions.
To receive the funding, businesses will need to have applied to the Welsh Government’s latest round of emergency funding, the deadline for which has been extended until 12pm on 16 June 2021.
Eligible applicants will automatically receive the top-up where possible or will be required to self-declare via a simple online process. Details are available on the Business Wales website.
“Over recent weeks, as restrictions have gradually been lifted, we have all seen many elements our old lives opening back up in a Covid-safe way,” Economy Minister, Vaughan Gething said.
“This can only be good news for our economy. However, we know that despite our success in controlling rates of Covid-19 and rolling out our vaccination programme, the Delta variant continues to present new challenges.
“It means we have needed to take a phased approach to moving to alert level 1, relaxing restrictions around outdoor events and activities first, because the evidence suggests the risk of infection is significantly lower outdoors than indoors. While this is absolutely the right decision for Wales, we recognise the impact it will have on a significant number of our businesses, particularly wedding venues and indoor attractions.”
Since October 2020, the government says it has provided 184,890 grants worth £686.6 million, due to the economic impact of the pandemic.
Fans return for summer rugby internationals
The Welsh Rugby Union with allow up to 8,200 supporters into the Principality Stadium for each of the three summer internationals next month.
The games will be the first international matches played in front of Wales supporters since March last year at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Tickets for the game against Canada and two clashes against Argentina go on sale today.
Due to ongoing Covid restrictions there will be no food or drink on sale inside the stadium and fans will not be permitted to bring any food or alcohol into the ground.
Under Welsh Government regulations, a maximum of 10,000 people can attend sporting fixtures, but this has been cut to allow for social distancing in the 74,000-capacity stadium.
Email leaked amid ‘fire and rehire’ cemetery workers row
Alex Seabrook, local democracy reporter
A leaked email has revealed how Barry town council is forcing cemetery workers to accept contract changes that could spark a strike.
Staff working at Merthyr Dyfan Cemetery were told they must work later in the evening over the summer.
Trade union GMB, representing the workers, said this was unnecessary and would make their working conditions worse.
GMB claimed the town council was using the controversial ‘fire and rehire’ practice, which the town council’s clerk “categorically denied” last week.
However, an email which appears to be from the town clerk sent to the cemetery workers shows how the council is now issuing 12 weeks notice. The clerk was asked to comment.
The email said: “The only possible way forward now to reach a conclusion on the matter is for me to serve the 12 weeks notice of contractual change to staff without any incentive attached.
“It is planned that this will be served by May 14, meaning the contractual change will come into effect from August 6.”
The fire and rehire practice — where employers force staff to accept contracts on worse conditions — caused controversy earlier this year as British Gas sacked hundreds of workers.
Mark Drakeford, the first minister, slammed the practice as “unacceptable” last week, calling for changes to law to ban the controversial practice.
GMB is now asking for a meeting with the leader of the town council, Bronwen Brooks. The union will ask her to overrule the decision to force cemetery workers to change their contracts. GMB is also balloting its members at the cemetery on taking industrial action.
The town council’s clerk was asked if she is continuing to “categorically deny” the allegations, in light of the newly revealed email. But no response was received by the time of publishing.
She previously said the changes were needed to respond to demand from visitors to access the cemetery in the evening during the summer, calling the changes to the contracts “minor”.