News in brief: Wales records the highest number of new Covid cases since March
Latest figures from Public Health Wales have confirmed 488 new Coronavirus cases in the 48 hours up to 9am on Sunday, as the rolling seven-day total up to 16 June reaches 914, the highest since the week ending 28 March when 1066 new cases were recorded.
There have also been 91 new cases of the Delta variant identified since last Thursday, taking the total number of infections linked to the mutation first detected in India in April to 579.
On Friday, First Minister Mark Drakeford warned the highly transmissible variant, which is now dominant across the UK, is present in every part of Wales, spreading at a community level, and there was a very real risk that there would be a significant number of people dying.
“The Delta variant, we know, is now seeded in every part of Wales,” he told Radio Wales. “97% of new cases in north Wales this week are of the Delta variant. Not only that but it is now spreading at a community level. Over two-thirds of new cases are community spread.
“This means inevitably that we are going to see rising numbers of people falling ill from this new variant in Wales over the coming weeks.”
Only two people have died of Covid in Wales in the last month, but in recent weeks the number of people testing positive for the virus has increased significantly.
Flintshire (70) Cardiff (56) and Swansea (48) all recorded big jumps in the number of new infections over the weekend but Conwy, which is at the centre of a significant Delta outbreak, has the worst weekly case rate at 91.3 per 100,000 people up from 81.9 yesterday.
Denbighshire, where three schools have been linked with cases of the Delta virus , has the second highest case rate at 77.3 down from 82.6 yesterday.
Flintshire has seen 115 new positive Covid tests in the last week and has the highest weekly positivity rate in Wales at 6.1% of every 100,000 tests.
The weekly case rate has gone up by four points over the weekend to 29 and the positivity rate currently stands at 2.6%.
Tories blast decision to remove the protected corridor around scrapped M4 Relief Road.
The Welsh Conservatives have slammed the government following the decision to remove the protected corridor around the scrapped M4 Relief Road.
Plans to build the road were abandoned in June 2019 on cost grounds, estimated at anything between £1.3-1.7 billion and after £157m was spent on a public inquiry and last year the government pledged to improve public transport links to reduce traffic congestion.
The protected corridor south of Newport has been in place since 1995 and obliged local authorities to inform the Welsh Government of planning applications within 67m either side of the preferred route for the road.
In the manifesto for last month’s Senedd election, the Tories pledged to spend £2 billion on improving infrastructure, including the delivery of the relief road around Newport.
“Whilst unsurprising given Labour’s misguided belief they can solve the problems on the M4 with a few cycle lanes and some extra traffic officers, this is a dark day for businesses across South Wales,” Welsh Conservative shadow transport minister, Natasha Asghar MS said.
“The Welsh economy has been held back for years by the regular congestion seen around the Brynglas Tunnels, and this news will put off any firms who might be contemplating investing in the region.
“As we move out of the pandemic, this is another hammer blow for the economy and jobs, as Labour ministers have regrettably placed a big ‘closed for business’ sign on the Welsh side of the Severn Bridge.”
Announcing the scrapping of the corridor on Friday, Lee Waters, Deputy Minister for Climate Change, said the move, “potentially provides further opportunities for ongoing work to safeguard the future of the Gwent levels and demonstrates our ongoing commitment to protect biodiversity and reduce the carbon footprint of our transport network.”
Union confirms latest DVLA walkout over Covid safety concerns
Workers at the DVLA will stage a new three-day strike from tomorrow as part of the long-running dispute over Covid safety at the agency’s HQ in Swansea.
The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union is calling for a reduction in the number of staff expected to work from the office and threatening months of industrial action unless management return to the negotiating table.
Last month an agreement between the two sides was withdrawn by management at the last minute with the union claiming interference from UK Government ministers had scuppered the deal.
“Targeted action will continue at the DVLA for months to come unless the original deal, which both parties had agreed in principle, is back on the table” PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said.
“Senior DVLA management have grossly underestimated the resolve and determination of our members who want to see a just settlement to this dispute.”
Images released of new Velindre Cancer Centre
Alex Seabrook, local democracy reporter
New pictures have been revealed for what a proposed cancer hospital in north Cardiff could look like as a public consultation on the design begins.
The new Velindre Cancer Centre will be built on the Northern Meadows in Whitchurch with construction expected to begin in March 2023.
Building work will take about two years and the hospital is likely to open in summer 2025.
After the Welsh Government signed off the outline business case for the hospital in March the next stage is a major public consultation to inform the final design of the buildings.
David Powell, project director for Velindre, said: “The design process is a key part of the next stage for the project and gathering the thoughts of our patients, their families, carers, staff and community is a critical part of that process.
“Without it we may have an updated reference design but we would not have the ability to build the heart into the cancer centre. We want to talk to as many partners and interested parties as possible so that the project team can listen and learn from the community.”
Velindre has revealed a new ‘reference design’ showing more detail than previously about how the hospital would look. Together with public comments from the consultation this will go to contractors bidding to work on the final design of the hospital.
The consultation will run for about a month and then the tendering process, which will take about a year, will begin. In the meantime enabling works to prepare the site will likely begin this autumn.
Community benefits are a key part of the project and the consultation is asking the public what this should look like. Possible examples include community gardens, work experience placements and apprenticeships, and using local supply chains to support the economy.
Sustainable construction methods and materials will be used in the hospital, which is aiming to be “the greenest hospital in the UK”, with renewable energy generated on site and efforts to improve biodiversity across the site.
Biodiversity of the project is a contentious issue as the hospital will be built on meadows popular with walkers and very close to a nature reserve. Campaigners have raised concerns about the impact on biodiversity and the many trees likely to be cut down during building.
Local campaigners Save the Northern Meadows, who want the hospital built elsewhere, said they boycotted the first of this round of consultation events, held on Thursday, June 17. Instead they demonstrated outside the consultation venue.
A spokesman for the campaign said: “It is too little too late. Real, meaningful consultation should have been undertaken years ago.
“The Northern Meadows are a haven for wildlife, a crucial part of the area’s biodiversity, have been used by the community for decades, and have been a lifeline to thousands of local people throughout the pandemic while also offering some protection from the pollution of the M4, A470, and Coryton Interchange, and decreasing the risk of flooding.”
The consultation held on Thursday was one of the first in-person events to be held since the start of the pandemic. Lockdown and social distancing meant much of the public engagement has had to be held remotely and online.
A newly-launched survey is seeking views for what NHS staff, local residents, patients, and visitors think the final designs should look like as well as their priorities on how the hospital can be built sustainably.
Velindre is also hosting three online consultation events over the next few weeks. They will take place on Monday, June 28, Friday, July 2, and Thursday, July 8. People interested in attending should email here for more information on how to join.
Mr Powell said: “The project not only aspires to be the greenest hospital in the UK but we want to ensure that it is an inspiring workplace for our dedicated, professional staff to thrive as well as becoming a focal point for international research and be a place that benefits the local community.
“It is the amazing work of Velindre that drives this project and why we are encouraging everyone to add their voice to the design process so that we can deliver a new cancer centre that we can all be proud of and is a state-of-the-art facility which is able to treat more people and help them to live longer.”