Senedd roundup: Government reveals Covid-19 track and trace programme

Coronavirus covid-19 test. Picture by Tom Wolf (CC BY 2.0).

Health Minister Vaughan Gething has published details of the Welsh Government’s new programme of testing for the coronavirus and tracing the spread of the infection across Wales.

The development of an effective test and trace programme is seen as a critical factor in easing current lockdown restrictions in the absence of a vaccine for Covid-19

The plan includes:

Increasing testing of critical workers to enable them to return to work

A new system of home testing for the public if they have coronavirus symptoms

A new app to track symptoms in the general population and contact others who have symptoms or have tested positive.

Testing capacity will be increased to up to 20,000 tests a day, drawing on a UK-wide scheme. Current capacity in Wales is more than 5,000 tests a day but on average under 2,000 test are conducted daily.

Mr Gething said: “We all want to be able to return to normal life as quickly as possible and to ease restrictions further – the science will guide us about when that happens.

“Our ‘Test, Trace, Protect’ strategy will be a key element in helping us do that by enabling us to quickly identify people with coronavirus symptoms; to identify any new hotspots and to isolate as many contacts as possible.”

“We have to learn to live with the virus. This approach will help people understand whether they have been exposed to the virus so they can limit their exposure to others. This will help us to prevent infection and track the virus as restrictions are eased.”

The minister indicated the number of tests that will be required every day will vary according to the level of the virus circulating in the community and how testing would be deployed to prevent infection.

Public health Wales has announced 22 people have died with coronavirus, taking the total in Wales to 1,154 people. In the last 24 hours 133 new cases were confirmed taking the overall number of those diagnosed with the virus to 11,706.  In total 51,863 tests have been carried out – 1087 tests were conducted on Tuesday.

Ken Skates AM Minister for Economy and Transport. Photo National Assembly for Wales and licensed under CC BY 2.0

Wales has highest proportion of businesses applying for UK furlough scheme.

Economy minister Ken Skates Wales has revealed that Wales has the highest proportion of businesses applying for the UK government’s furlough scheme.

Speaking at Wednesday’s daily coronavirus briefing, Mr Skates said 74% of companies in Wales had applied for the scheme, compared to 67% in  England, 72% in Scotland and 65% in Northern Ireland”

Under the scheme 80% of a worker’s salary up to a £2,500 monthly cap is paid by the UK Government.  Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced on Tuesday that the support would be extended until to October, although he said companies would be asked to contribute towards the cost from August.

Mr Skates said the scheme had been “essential to allowing large parts of the economy to hibernate through the crisis”, adding that “none of the devolved governments had the fiscal firepower to provide the support the job retention scheme is providing”.

The minister welcomed the extension and observed that if it had not been extended “it would have had devastating consequences for the Welsh economy”.

He also warned: “It is essential the Job Retention Scheme is not withdrawn or scaled back too quickly and before businesses have been able properly to restart their operations”.

Mr Skates also revealed that businesses registered in tax havens will not receive money from the Welsh Government’s fund to help firms through the coronavirus crisis.

He said it was right that “businesses that don’t pay tax should not benefit from the interventions that government is making” and called for this approach to be extended across the United Kingdom.

The minister said the move by the government sends the message that “we are not going back to business as usual, when we are through this crisis” and added: “We are all determined across all political parties, if at all possible, to build a better economy and a better society.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Picture by Chatham House (CC BY 2.0)

 

Police chief blames Prime Minister for lockdown problems

South Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Alun Michael has accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of creating problems for the other UK nations following the lockdown changes Johnson announced on Sunday.

The new regulations, which apply only in England, have encouraged people who cannot work from home to return to their workplaces and has allowed people to drive any distance to take exercise.

Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland all announced they were keeping stricter measures in place in the last few days.

Speaking to BBC Radio Cymru’s Post Cyntaf programme, Mr Michael said: “When we, the commissioners in Wales, were talking to the minister in the Wales Office responsible for the police, we were trying to make it clear that the four nations went in the same direction.

“[First Minister] Mark Drakeford and Scotland were very keen to keep a lock-step for everyone. It was Boris Johnson’s choice to do things differently and this has created problems.”

Photo by tomylees is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Calls for vital food delivery services to be made available for blind people in Wales

Plaid Cymru’s Dr Dai Lloyd MS is pressing the Welsh Government to urgently provide people with sight loss priority access to online grocery shopping.

Priority shopping slots have only been made available for people in the shielding category meaning blind and partially sighted people in Wales no longer have access to vital food delivery services in Wales, placing them at higher risk of exposure to COVID-19.

While Local Authorities in England have started a referral system so that when someone is not shielded but vulnerable for another reason, they can still obtain a priority delivery slot, Wales is yet to adopt this approach. This means people with sight loss in Wales now have to rely on volunteers or visit the shops themselves.

Dr Lloyd, the Chair of Senedd Cymru’s Cross Party Group for Vision said: “We are now well into the second month of lockdown measures and blind and partially sighted people are still struggling to get hold of basic essential items like groceries.

“It is unacceptable and disappointing that Welsh Government have allowed a group of vulnerable people to be at higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 due to restrictions to a vital service previously available to them.”

Photo by Baylee Gramling on Unsplash

Mini, junior and youth football seasons ended in Wales

The Football Association of Wales has announced all mini, junior and youth football league seasons in Wales have been ended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The FAW’s National League Board has also taken the same decision with academy football leagues.

Senior football at all levels in Wales was cancelled last month.

In a statement, the FAW said: “A decision on the conclusion and method of ending the season will be discussed further by the FAW Board of Directors in due course and communicated to the area associations thereafter.”

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Alwyn Evans
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Alwyn Evans

Finally! Only two full months late, and only taken from what’s left over of the English test materials.

Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

Perhaps they are acting in anticipation of a second ( or more) peak !

Gwyn Roberts
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Gwyn Roberts

“A new app to track symptoms in the general population and contact others who have symptoms or have tested positive.” Does anybody know if this app is based on the Apple / Google platform (with privacy safeguards), or on the centralised server-based English NHS model? If Welsh Government has gone its own way on this, that would be remarkable and commendable.

Dr Dewi Evans
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Dr Dewi Evans

The decision to increase testing is very welcome, but very late. It’s not clear if the Senedd proposes to use the virology services of our NHS Hospitals, nor is it clear if / how Local Authorities are getting involved. It may be necessary to identify ‘hotspots’ and introduce ‘selective’ lockdown areas (and indeed selective ‘age related’ lockdowns). That may be a practical solution if one can get enough tests, and get the results quickly, and could lead to opening up the economy safely. I would also welcome a process of ‘random testing’ applying the same principle as political opinion polls.… Read more »