Senedd roundup: Government quizzed over lack of Covid vaccine rollout plan

Image by fernando zhiminaicela from Pixabay

Owen Donovan, Senedd Home

Plaid Cymru Leader Adam Price has called for the Welsh Government to reveal details of its corornavirus vaccination rollout programme.

Last week, the Scottish Government announced their plan for distribution of the vaccine, including details of who would be first to receive the vaccine in Scotland.

First Minister, Mark Drakeford told the Plaid leader the Welsh Government had a “very active planning group” and that they would follow the advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) but did not yet have a plan.

“Just ten days after we heard the encouraging news that Pfizer and BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine was proving to be 90% effective in trials, the Scottish Government’s Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, presented a comprehensive rollout plan to the Holyrood parliament. In the Health Secretary’s words, Scotland is ‘ready for December.’

“December is just a week away, the first vaccine might arrive very soon after that. It’s essential that Wales has a plan to deliver the first vaccines to our priority group, but the Welsh Government is yet to identify who the priority group is,” Mr Price said.

“The speed at which these vaccines have been produced has been phenomenal, but without a roll-out plan, we’ll be behind the rest of the UK if we’re unable to hit the ground running once the vaccines are made available to us.

“Welsh Government must urgently deliver their vaccination rollout programme, before waiting to receive the first batch. This needs to include a timeline of who will be vaccinated and when. Wales must be ‘December ready’ for the Covid-19 vaccine and time is ticking.”

Picture by the Welsh Government.

Concern at Covid surge among younger adults

First Minister’s Questions

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on this year’s Christmas celebrations was a central theme of First Minister’s Questions today but perhaps the most worrying contribution was Mark Drakeford’s warning of a recent surge of infections cases among younger people in Wales.

The First Minister said that after two weeks of overall case reductions, 17 Welsh local authorities were now showing rises in the under-25 age range similar to September and October when the second wave began.

Meanwhile, Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies MS (Con, Preseli Pembs.), believed some of the early indications from the Welsh Government was a tiered approach similar to England and Scotland could be introduced in Wales in the run up to Christmas. If that was the case, then it was important to look at the impact there before considering it here.

Paul Davies also stressed the need to give businesses and local authorities enough time and support to prepare for any changes.

Mr Drakeford said he didn’t think a tier-based approach in Wales was necessarily going to happen and, as mentioned, the Welsh Government’s preference is for a common approach across the UK in the run-up, during and immediately after Christmas and New Year.

Despite serious concerns about how the latest round of business support funding has been delivered, he argued that the Welsh Government has invested “considerable sums” to protect businesses over and above that provided from the UK Government; he called for the UK Chancellor to be more wholehearted in his support for business in the forthcoming spending review.

Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price MS (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr), was in no doubt that following the toughest year in living memory, many people will be looking forward to spending time with friends and family over Christmas and New Year.

Limited relaxation of restrictions would be sensible, but it wouldn’t be worth losing progress for a sake of a few days. As well as a desire to see mass testing – as seen in Merthyr Tydfil – rolled out more generally for Covid hot-spots, would the Welsh Government consider a public information campaign similar to seasonal drink-driving campaigns to encourage the public to stick to guidelines over the festive period?

The First Minister agreed that meeting family and friends would be important but so many things would have to be balanced to allow it to happen. The desire is for a common approach to be taken across the UK – backed by scientific evidence and advice – with further discussions due this afternoon.

Any relaxation of restrictions shouldn’t be seen as an instruction to spent the period doing risky things and a public information campaign is planned.

On mass testing, a lot has been learned so far from experiences in Merthyr Tydfil – but there were potentially more important uses for the limited supply of quick lateral flow tests, such as testing in schools.

Royal Glamorgan Hospital

Coronavirus deaths rise to levels last seen in May

Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics have revealed that deaths involving Covid-19 in Wales have risen to the highest weekly total since early May.

A total of 190 deaths were registered in the week ending 13 November, 24 more than the previous week and a quarter of all deaths in Wales that week.

Overall, 56 deaths were registered across the Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board area and of those, 44 were in hospital.

Aneurin Bevan health board area recorded 51 deaths for the week and there were 29 deaths in Swansea Bay, 27 in Betsi Cadwaladr and 14 in Cardiff and Vale.

Rhondda Cynon Taf has recorded 465 deaths since the start of the pandemic in late February and the current death rate of 193.6 deaths per 100,000 people is now the second highest rate across all local authorities in Wales and England, behind Tameside in Greater Manchester.

The total number of deaths fell to 742 in the latest week covered by the ONS study, 84 deaths (12.8%) higher than the five-year average.

Meanwhile, today’s figures from Public Health Wales have confirmed another 21 people have died due to coronavirus and 595 new positive tests for the virus have been reported.

11 of those deaths were in the Cwm Taf health board area, along with five in the Aneurin Bevan area, three in Hywel Dda, and one in Swansea Bay and Betsi Cadwaladr.

The highest number of new cases over the last 24 hours was in Torfaen (78) followed Rhondda Cynon Taf (65) and Neath Port Talbot (49).

Blaenau Gwent has the highest infection rate in Wales at 407.9 per 100,000 people over the last week, don from 416.8 yesterday.

The highest proportion of positive tests for the week is in Neath Port Talbot with 18.1% per 100,000 tests, up from 17.9% yesterday.

Penally military camp. Picture from Google Maps

Cover-up fears at Penally Asylum Camp

Welsh Liberal Democrats have expressed concerns of a potential cover up of the cramped and unsanitary living conditions which asylum seekers are facing at the Penally Camp in Pembrokeshire.

This follows a report in the Guardian newspaper last week that volunteers at the Napier Camp near Folkestone are being required to sign confidential agreements underpinned by the Official Secrets Act.

Both Napier and Penally are being run by Clearsprings, a private firm running the repurposed sites on behalf of the Home Office.

Alistair Cameron, Welsh Liberal Democrat Senedd Candidate for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire said: “Clearsprings and The Home Office need to urgently reveal if they are forcing those working and volunteering at Penally to sign confidentiality agreements, and if they are that practice must stop immediately.

“There is no national security reason for volunteers having to sign confidentiality agreements and free speech is the cornerstone of our democracy.

“Any reasonable person would expect the refugees to be accommodated in warm, clean and safe accommodation whilst their claim for asylum is being considered. We would expect similar consideration if we were forced to flee from our homes and claim asylum abroad.

“Conditions at the camp will be deteriorating rapidly as we move into Winter. However, they should be a matter of public knowledge, not least because many local people will wish to help the refugees.

“However, what we really need is for the Home Office to transfer the asylum seekers to warm, decent and safe accommodation as soon as possible. A military camp is completely unsuitable for people who are fleeing war, violence and persecution. “

Coronavirus shop signs. Photo by Nation.Cymru

Report: 18% of Welsh shops are currently vacant

The Welsh Retail Consortium has revealed that just under a fifth of retail premises in Wales are currently vacant – rising from 15.9% to 18% during the third quarter of 2020. This is said to be the largest increase in vacant shops anywhere in the UK.

Reportedly, only the north-east of England has a higher vacancy rate than Wales at 18.9%. Shopping centres were said to have more vacancies in Wales than out-of-town retail parks.

One positive note was a reported increase in the number of independent businesses opening in town and city centres as major chains see a decline.

In the last few days, it was announced that the Cardiff-based clothing retailer, Peacocks, will go into administration following its owner Edinburgh Woollen Mill. There are still hopes for a sale to interested parties and no store closures have yet been announced, though the new potentially puts more than 4,700 jobs at risk.

Tryfan mountain in Snowdonia. Picture by Robert J. Heath (CC BY 2.0).

Concern raised over environmental watchdog delays

The Welsh Government has been criticised for delays in appointing a new independent commissioner to police breaches of environmental law following the UK’s departure from the EU.

Despite the proposal being recommended seven months ago, Ministers have confirmed there is now insufficient time to put the necessary legislation in place until after May’s Senedd election, meaning it could be years before the new system is fully up and running.

Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Climate Change, Energy and Rural Affairs Janet Finch-Saunders, accused the government of “squandering this opportunity for Wales to be a world leader in green protections” by taking so long to confirm its decision.

“While it is certainly progress to see that the Minister has finally accepted that Wales must introduce an independent environmental watchdog, following my repeated interventions on the matter, this acknowledgement does not address the problem that critical action remains kicked into the long grass.” Mrs Finch-Saunders said.

“We have lost months and seen weeks of recess since this report was delivered in April, during which I would have been pleased to see legislation brought forward to address governance gaps.”

“In comparison, the UK Government is now in the process of appointing the inaugural Chair of the Office for Environmental Protection, despite the pressures from Covid-19 and Brexit.

“The Welsh Labour-led Government has consistently placed long-term arrangements for environmental governance on the back burner, squandering this opportunity for Wales to be a world leader in green protections.”

Nick Ramsay AM. Photo The National Assembly for Wales.

MS withdraws legal claim against constituency association

Shadow Finance Minister, Nick Ramsay MS (Con, Monmouth), has withdrawn a legal claim against his constituency association, landing himself with a £25,000 bill for costs.

The legal action launched over moves to de-select the MS – who was first elected in 2007 – despite having already been confirmed as the Conservative candidate for Monmouth in next year’s Senedd election.

He told BBC Wales: “I still do not know what I have done and that has still not been disclosed. There are a few bad apples who I believe have poisoned the barrel.”

A meeting to consider a petition to de-select Nick Ramsay took place yesterday ( 23rd November 2020), in which the petition was accepted. A future meeting will decide whether to formally deselect the MS, though he will be able to put his name forward for a reselection process.

Photo by Ernesto Eslava from Pixabay

First recommendations of a review into BAME history in the curriculum published

The provisional recommendations from a working gropu’s review into black, Asian and minority ethnic history and diversity in the new National Curriculum were published last week.

Prof. Charlotte Williams (pictured) was appointed to lead the review earlier in 2020.

The initial recommendations include:

  • An online resource guide for BAME history which would be included on the online learning platform, Hwb.
  • Welsh translation of the highest-quality English-language resources for BAME history.
  • New bilingual teaching and professional development resources covering topics including Wales’ role in British colonialism; biographies of significant people of colour and their contribution to Welsh, British and international life; literary works by Welsh people of colour and a guide to racism and anti-racism in Wales.
  • Estyn should review how to properly include diversity across all areas of learning in the new curriculum.
  • A new Future Wales Teaching Award for promoting the inclusion of BAME histories across all subjects in school.

A final report is set to be presented next spring.

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