Senedd roundup: Health chief admits vaccine’s effectiveness at cutting Covid transmission is unknown
Owen Donovan, Senedd Home
Wales’ Chief medical officer Dr Frank Atherton says it is not known yet whether the new Covid-19 vaccine being rolled out across Wales in the coming weeks will stop transmission of the virus.
First Minister Mark Drakeford confirmed yesterday that Wales will get an allocation based on population of 40m doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine – enough to vaccinate 20m people – and immunisations could start within days for some groups of people.
The recently completed trial of the vaccine was designed to test for symptomatic Covid-19 and confirmed infection with the virus but Pfizer says it is carrying out more studies on its effectiveness against transmission and will release more information soon.
Dr Atherton said data on the Pfizer/BioNtech jab shows it is “pretty good” at stopping people getting infected and having serious infections but added: “We just don’t know yet whether it will stop transmission.
“That will only be known to us in the fullness of time when vaccines are rolled out.”
Despite the imminent arrival of the vaccine in Wales, Dr Atherton also warned people they need to stay vigilant to protect themselves and the NHS over the coming months:
“We still need to remember that there are some really important things that will keep us safe” as the process of vaccination is started.
“This is still going to be a very difficult winter. The NHS is going to be under pressure – it’s under pressure now.
“We have to all continue those really important things around social distancing, respiratory hygiene, the face-space-safe message that we’ve all become so familiar with.
“It’s really important that we don’t throw away the gains of the last year when the light is now at the end of the tunnel.”
The latest figures from Public Health Wales have confirmed 24 more deaths and 1,473 new cases of Covid-19 in the last 24 hours.
Ten of the newly reported deaths were in the Swansea Bay health board area and a further six were in Cwm Taf Morgannwg, with three more in the Aneurin Bevan.
Cardiff has recorded the highest number of new positive tests in Wales over the last 24 hours (217) and has now reported 899 cases over the last seven days. Rhondda Cynon Taf was second highest with 180 cases yesterday and Neath Port Talbot was next with 132.
The infection rate is continuing to go up in Blaenau Gwent, with PHW reporting a jump from 453.8 to 468.1 cases per 100,000 people since yesterday.
Neath Port Talbot continues to have the highest positive test proportion in Wales, up from 20.6% to 22.2% per 100,000 tests since Wednesday’s report
Consultation launched on ending live animal exports for slaughter
The Welsh and UK Governments have launched an eight-week consultation seeking views on ending the export of live animals for slaughter and fattening where the journeys begin or transit through either country.
The consultation will also consider proposals to further improve animal welfare in transport more generally, such as:
- reduced maximum journey times
- animals will be given more space and headroom during transport
- stricter rules on transporting animals in extreme heat or cold
- tighter rules for transporting live animals by sea
The Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, said: “We are committed to ensuring the highest standards of welfare for all animals kept in Wales.
“I believe a GB approach to be the best way forward in the future, to ensure we safeguard and improve the welfare of animals that are presently subject to long journeys.
“We will, in Wales, consider the findings from this consultation to shape our future policy direction on this devolved matter.
“I urge the agriculture industry, partners and everyone with an interest in animal welfare to get involved and share their views with us on this important issue.”
Renewed calls for statutory public notices to be used to fund new journalism
Yesterday, the Senedd discussed the Culture Committee’s report on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on journalism – summarised here.
Given that the situation regarding domestic coverage in Wales was already perilous, Acting Chair of the Committee, Helen Mary Jones MS (Plaid, Mid & Wales Wales) said the crisis exacerbated existing problems. Also, while coverage of Wales at a UK level improved gradually through the crisis, the over-reliance outlets which produce Anglo-centric coverage caused confusion.
One of the Committee’s key recommendations – pressed by several members – was that statutory public notices should be published on a wider range of outlets to provide an income without being a direct subsidy.
David Melding MS (Con, South Wales Central) warned of the perils of people getting their news via social media; it’s a complementary tool and has given everyone a voice but has become a source of misinformation.
After three-plus years, I finally bask in the limelight of a mention in the Senedd chamber itself, courtesy of Dr Hefin David MS (Lab, Caerphilly).
“I took a great deal of interest in this report, particularly because there are two sources of very good-quality journalism that I use – it isn’t one of the big ones – and that’s Senedd Home, which is run by Owen Donovan, and it’s run entirely as a labour of love.
“It is the best summary of these debates that you will see anywhere, and I would recommend any Member….use that as a source for finding out what has gone on….because it is the best summary you will see, short of reading through the Record yourself, which, of course, isn’t possible. And I’m sure this will get a mention in his summary as well, which is not why I’m saying it, Deputy Minister.”
– Dr Hefin David MS
Helen Mary Jones later mentioned that while she doesn’t agree with everything I write, Senedd Home is “incredibly accurate”. I’m not going to turn down a plug, am I? I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.
The other (proper) outlet mentioned by Hefin David was the “reliable and trusted” Caerphilly Observer, with a warning from the editor, Richard Gurner, that direct press subsidy isn’t necessarily the best road to go down as it raises questions about accountability.
Sian Gwenllian MS (Plaid, Arfon) mentioned her party’s support for the creation of an independent media commission to fund Welsh and English-language digital media and to tackle news deserts where local newspapers have closed. Meanwhile, Mick Antoniw MS (Lab, Pontypridd) noted how community radio stations like GTFM came into their own during the pandemic and the February 2020 floods.
The Welsh Government accepted all but one of the Committee’s recommendations.
In reply, Deputy Minister for Culture, Tourism & Sport, Dafydd Elis-Thomas (Ind, Dwyfor Meirionnydd), said discussions will take place with Creative Wales to consider how to develop a partnership to improve the levels of information and coverage of the Senedd and Welsh Government.
He suggested it was certainly possible to have arms-length funding of journalism going forward which protects journalistic independence, but more complicated issues such as the BBC are – as of now – constitutionally out-of-bounds (broadcasting is non-devolved).
Plans for £300 million relief road put on hold
The Senedd’s Petitions Committee has recommended that proposals for the Deeside relief road from the A55 are put on hold to allow further consideration of the viability of the project.
The so-called Red Route, part of the Flintshire Corridor Improvement Scheme, will cost £300 million and would see a 13km two-lane dual carriageway built to link the A55 at Northop with the A494 and A550 north of Deeside Parkway Junction.
Campaigners against the project claim the new road runs counter to the government’s climate ambitions and will destroy “irreplaceable” ancient woodland.
Since the scheme was agreed three years ago cost have spiralled from £210m to £300m.
Local government reminded of their Welsh-medium education duties following court ruling
Questions without notice to Mental Health, Wellbeing & Welsh Language Minister, Eluned Morgan (Lab, Mid & West Wales).
Sian Gwenllian MS (Plaid, Arfon) asked for an update on any legal steps the Welsh Government were taking in response to the Administrative Court’s adjudication against Rhondda Cynon Taf’s proposals for school reorganisation in the county (Driver vs RCT Council). How will the government inform public bodies of the precedents arising from that ruling?
The Minister confirmed the Welsh Government wasn’t taking a formal position on the ruling.
Local government is required to consider the need to strengthen their Welsh-medium education offer. She accepted a lot needs to be done when it comes to teaching Welsh as a second language too, with discussions held with the National Centre for Learning Welsh – particularly their experience with online learning.
Shadow Minister for Equalities & Young People, Laura Anne Jones MS (Con, South Wales East), raised the issue of mental health within small businesses. Owners have been put through so much recently having stepped up to the plate to provide Covid-safe services, only to be battered again through new restrictions.
From correspondence, it was clear there are high levels of anxiety and depression amongst small business owners. What action was the Welsh Government taking to reach out to business owners to ensure they get the mental health support they need?
The Minister told the Senedd she was “intensely aware” of the mental health situation and the need to think of business owners – who have put money and their livelihoods on the line – as well as the employees.
There have already been discussions concerning the tourism industry on whether a sector-specific programme needs to be put in place, but there was also a need for men, in particular, to be made aware of the mental health services which are available.
Hungarian airline touches down in Cardiff
Hungarian low-cost airliner, Wizz Air, is to establish its fourth UK base at Cardiff Airport and will run nine routes from spring 2021 with the potential for more routes in the future.
The routes – which will have the capacity for 350,000 passengers – include popular holiday destinations in Spain, Portugal, Greece and Egypt, some of which were lost from Cardiff following the collapse of FlyBe earlier this year. It’s estimated 40 jobs will be created.
Cardiff Airport said: “The Wizz Air UK base will bring a huge amount of choice for our customers to travel to some of the most popular holiday destinations from Cardiff, at affordable prices. We know many people living in Wales are craving a well-deserved holiday after such a challenging year and these new flights going on sale today from Cardiff, will give so many more opportunities for holidays to be planned now that will give us all something to look forward to for next year.”