Senedd roundup: Fears of second coronavirus wave key to tourism decision

Abersoch, which is popular with second home owners. Picture by Ken Doerr (CC BY 2.0)

Owen Donovan, Senedd Home

International Relations Minister Eluned Morgan said the government is “intensely aware” of the pressure the lockdown is having on the tourist industry in Wales but gave no indication of when the sector might be given the green light to reopen at Wednesday’s coronavirus press briefing.

She also highlighted fears that a premature decision could spark a second wave of the virus, citing a recent outbreak in Japan.

The tourist sector in Wales was closed, along with all other non-essential businesses, when the coronavirus crisis struck in March.

First Minister Mark Drakeford spoke about the possibilities of the sector reopening earlier in the week. He highlighted the concerns of communities worried about the impact an influx of visitors from areas where the virus is more prevalent could have and urged the industry to address those worries before it could be cleared to open again.

“If we reopen tourism in parts of Wales, when visitors arrive, they will need to know that their presence there is welcome in those local communities,” he said.

Eluned Morgan said “… in relation to tourism, we are intensely aware of the pressure that is on a sector which is fundamental to the Welsh economy.

“We are acting sensitively, I hope, in discussing with all of the key actors in the area, discussing with local authorities, discussing with the key stakeholders in relation to the tourism sector.

“They understand that we need to do this carefully and the most important thing is to see how we can avoid a second peak.”

Last week Paul Davies, Welsh Conservatives Leader of the Opposition in the Senedd, called on Mark Drakeford to offer “hope and reassurance to the sector,” and added: “Many operators feel as though they’re being left behind, with no hope for their businesses in the future.”

Ministers are due to review the lockdown restrictions tomorrow and the First Minister will announce the outcome on Friday.

Ten more people with coronavirus are reported to have died in Wales in the last 24 hours, taking the total number of fatalities to 1,466.

Public Health Wales also confirmed 53 new cases.  Since March 14,922 people have tested positive for Covid-19. 

Only 1,923 tests were carried out yesterday.

Swab test. Photo by Ewa Urban from Pixabay

Covid-19 test processing getting slower

Figures released by Public Health Wales have shown a decline in the number of Covid-19 test results being delivered within 24 hours.

In the week ending 14 June only 49.7% of results from tests at drive-through centres came back within a day, down from 52.6% the week before – 11% of test results took longer than 48 hours.

The figures also show just 43.7% of results from testing units come back inside a day.

Hospital tests bucked the trend with a small improvement as 63.2% came back within 24 hours.

Last week First Minister Mark Drakeford pledged to speed up testing. He told BBC Politics Wales: “Our ambition is to have as many of them as possible done within 24 hours so that if people don’t test positive we can release people back into the workforce and that’s a moving picture.”

Meanwhile, the Welsh Conservatives have attacked the number of tests currently being carried out in Wales.

On Monday Mr Drakeford announced that testing capacity in Wales had increased to 12,000 per day but yesterday just 3,100 tests were carried out.

Shadow Minister for Health, Angela Burns MS, said: “The latest statistics point to an extremely alarming situation, where – again – only a quarter of capacity was used.

“It is appalling that only 3,100 tests were carried out in the last 24 hours when the current capacity is 12,374.

“Time and time again the Welsh Government has missed every opportunity available to it to increase the number of tests to match capacity. Swift action is needed to increase the current capacity, as well as to address the growing level of concern.”

First Minister Mark Drakeford. Picture by the Welsh Government.

Welsh Government to fund wastewater virus early warning system project; “don’t leave it too late” plea for cancer treatment

Due to the rescheduling of this afternoon’s virtual plenary session, the weekly coronavirus ministerial statements were issued as written statements instead.

The Senedd schedule is set to return to something approaching normal next week, including First Minister’s Questions.

Here are the key points from the First Minister’s statement:

  • The First Minister held an online discussion with carers to mark Carers’ Week last week and to learn how the lockdown has affected carers. An additional £50,000 has been made available to Carers Wales.
  • Regulations have been drafted which will require international passengers arriving in Wales to self-isolate themselves for 14 days.
  • 70,000 people in Wales are regularly reporting through the King’s College London symptom tracker (ZOE).
  • The Welsh Government will fund a project to monitor Covid-19 levels in wastewater which may be used to develop an early warning system if/when there’s an additional outbreak.
  • 80% of Welsh Government staff are focused on coronavirus with 97% of staff working from home. The pandemic remains the government’s top priority until there’s the confidence it’s safely behind us.

First steps being taken to allow care homes visits

The Welsh Government and Chief Medical Officer have issued preliminary guidance as a first step towards allowing visits to care homes in Wales.

According to the statement, visitors are unlikely to need to wear face coverings as long as the visit is undertaken outdoors, and social distancing is respected.

The Welsh Government said: “Officials are working with Care Inspectorate Wales, Public Health Wales and stakeholders including the Older People’s Commissioner and Care Forum Wales to develop more detailed guidance. This will be published in the coming weeks, and will be kept under review as lockdown restrictions change.”

Over 1000 ideas submitted on post-pandemic recovery

Counsel General, Jeremy Miles (Lab, Neath) – who’s also been put in charge of leading the Welsh Government’s pandemic recovery – has said that more than 1,000 submissions have been made to the “Our Future Wales” project, which is seeking ideas on how to rebuild and reshape the country during the recovery.

An announcement on the latest review of lockdown restrictions is due on Friday (19th June 2020).

The deadline for submissions is the end of July.

Six round-table discussions have been held with expert panels and the Welsh Centre for Public Policy is set to publish summary reports of those meetings in the near future.

Some of the areas of focus include skills development, maximising the use of natural resources, social housing innovation, fostering creativity amongst Welsh businesses and reimagining town centres.

“Don’t leave it too late” plea for cancer treatment

The Health Minister has launched a campaign calling for people who may be displaying symptoms of cancer to not put off seeking treatment or diagnosis because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We know that many people have been avoiding their GP surgery or hospital due to Covid-19 but tests and treatment for cancer are available and I want those who need to seek care and treatment to continue to do so.

“Services will look different, with some appointments being done remotely and if you do need to be seen in person then clinicians may be wearing protective equipment. This is to reduce everyone’s risk of catching Covid-19 when being investigated for cancer or receiving treatment for cancer.”
– Health & Social Services Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth)

Public Health Wales will restart cancer screening programmes from the end of June 2020.

It was also said to be important for people who’ve developed problems eating and drinking – or other physical or mental health issues – as a result of cancer treatment to remain in contact with clinical teams.

More sports set to resume behind closed doors “in the coming weeks and months”

With the English Premier League and English Championship set to resume from this evening, the Deputy Minister for Culture, Tourism & Sport, Dafydd Elis-Thomas (Ind, Dwyfor Meirionnydd), has urged supporters to stay away from Cardiff City Stadium and Swansea’s Liberty Stadium and not to travel to away games.

On a more positive note, the Deputy Minister said that he expects more professional sport to resume behind closed doors in the coming weeks and months, which he hopes will be “a welcome distraction to the challenges we are facing during the Coronavirus pandemic.”

South Wales Police will be supporting Cardiff City and Swansea City in enforcing their behind-closed-doors procedures and will review this support after each club’s first two home games following the resumption of the English Championship.

 

Mohammad Asghar. Picture by the Senedd.

Senedd tributes to “generous spirit” Mohammad Asghar

Following yesterday’s news of the sudden death of Mohammad Asghar, nearly all of the items on this afternoon’s virtual Senedd plenary session were pulled so MSs could pay tribute to their friend and colleague.

“One of the Senedd’s characters”

Ahead of a minute’s silence, the Llywydd, Elin Jones (Plaid, Ceredigion) said Mohammad’s death came as a “cruelly unexpected blow” and as one of the Senedd’s “characters” she asked members to warmly commemorate him and extend their sympathies to his family: “Oscar, your Senedd gives you and your family a big virtual cwtsh, as you cwtshed so many of us over the years.”

Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies MS (Con, Preseli Pembs.) said Mohammad’s death would leave an emptiness with those who knew him. He had unique experiences and used his platform as the first BAME member to build bridges, inviting the Israeli ambassador to the Senedd in efforts to promote peace between Jews and Muslims.

“He was generous in so many ways and with so many people, and he was also a rare thing in politics: someone who spoke no ill of others, who was not capable of hate, who saw in other politicians of all parties a shared commitment to achieve for their communities and their constituencies.”
– Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies MS

The First Minister grimly noted that Mohammad is the third member to die in office during “an especially cruel” Fifth Senedd. He was able to demonstrate – as someone who had arrived in Wales from another continent – that you can build a successful life here. While he’ll be missed in Wales, he’ll also be missed elsewhere in the world because his career “was a symbol of something so much wider”.

Cricket-obsessed, generosity of spirit….and tea

Several members noted his passion for cricket and his support for establishing a Welsh national cricket team; the First Minister recounted Mohammad’s ability to reliably know scores from around the world.

“As Ieuan Wyn (Jones) recounts, you never left Oscar’s home without a full stomach. I was reminded of this generosity at first hand a year or two ago when Ieuan and I were chatting in the Senedd café. As Ieuan walked towards the counter, Oscar rushed towards the waitress and bellowed, ‘This is on me’, insisting on buying us both a cup of tea.”
– Adam Price MS (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr)

BXP’s Mark Reckless noted how Mohammad was able to get results for constituents by speaking at length in the chamber about their issues and going directly to ministers instead of working through officials.

Delyth Jewell MS (Plaid, South Wales East) recounted (from former MS Jocelyn Davies) how the BNP waited to stage a mass flounce out when Mohammad’s election was confirmed in 2007. He smiled through it, which felt “like a little victory over prejudice and hatred”.

There were also plenty of titbits from behind the scenes: carrying the Olympic torch in the 1960s, negotiating the price of handmade dresses down in Brussels for Angela Burns MS’s (Con, Carms. W. & S. Pembs) daughters, negotiating up the price of a bracelet which a market stallholder believed was silver but was actually platinum, offering to be wedding chauffeur for Nick Ramsay MS (Con, Monmouth), an emotional trip to the Holy Land and endless cups of tea.

“We’re marking the sad passing of a dear friend who has left us with so many happy memories and an inspiring way to approach life in all its variety and wonder, and in this time of deep sorrow, we remember his family, particularly his widow, Firdaus, and daughter Natasha. May they be comforted by the contribution he has made to Wales and, indeed, to further the spirit of generosity and tolerance worldwide.”
– David Melding MS (Con, South Wales Central)

Photo by Mabel Amber from Pixabay

A55 improvements get early start

Work to improve junction 19 of the A55, to make it safer for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists, has started today.

The junction, known as the Black Cat roundabout, is a busy intersection where the A470 meets the A55.

The work will include widening the junction, the construction of safer crossings for pedestrians and cyclists, the installation of traffic signals at key locations and an upgrade from the current street lighting to an energy-efficient LED alternative.

The routes for cyclists and pedestrians will also link with the current path on the A470 to encourage active travel in the area.

The work would originally have been carried out after the summer embargo. But traffic levels on the A55 are almost half their normal level as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, providing a window to complete the work earlier than intended with minimal disruption to the public.

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