Senedd roundup: Local lockdowns ruled out following food plant outbreaks
Health Minister Vaughan Gething has issued a statement in which he rules out the introduction of local lockdowns to control the Covid-19 hotspots centred around three food processing plants in Wales but warned he could close facilities that pose a health risk in future
The latest figures from the government confirm 217 infections among staff members and their contacts at the 2 Sisters plant in Llangefni and 238 confirmed cases at the Rowan Foods facility in Wrexham.
There have also been 134 cases at the Kepak Food Group plant in Merthyr Tydfil.
The 2 Sisters facility is due to reopen on Sunday, staffed by workers that have all tested negative for the virus
Rowan Foods has remained in operation throughout the outbreak as there is no evidence that the infection is factory-based.
In a written statement Mr Gething said: “While there have been some increases in cases as a result of the outbreaks and incident, there is no evidence of any widespread transmission within the respective wider communities. There is therefore no need to impose a local lockdown as happened in Leicester this week. We will of course continue to review the position here in Wales.”
“I am prepared to exercise legal powers to close facilities that pose a public health risk from Covid-19 if that is necessary. To date the advice, I have received is that if the measures implemented to date are adhered to then further interventions are not justified. This is a dynamic situation and I will continue to review what measures may be required in the future.”
Public Health Wales has reported five new deaths from coronavirus. These take the total number of deaths in Wales to 1,530.
In the last 24 hours 34 new cases of the virus have been confirmed, taking the cumulative total of infections to 15,875. There were 2,949 tests carried out on Friday.
New support for struggling bus companies
Wales’ bus industry will be funded through a new Bus Emergency Scheme, providing financial support for revenue lost during the coronavirus pandemic in return for greater public control over buses.
The Welsh Government has announced the scheme as its previous short-term support scheme – the Bus Hardship Fund – comes to an end.
Revenue in the sector is expected to remain low for the foreseeable future and the emergency funding will provide an operating subsidy in lieu of lost revenue for an initial period of three months.
Additional expectations will be added to the requirements for funding that were put in place under the Bus Hardship Fund scheme. These include:
- Working with local authorities and Transport for Wales to flex routes and capacity to match evolving supply and demand
- Use reasonable endeavours to comply with Welsh Government guidance on the safe use of public transport
- Seeking financial support through all other grants available to them
- Not increasing commercial bus fares
- Providing information to help improve services for passengers
Operators must work with local authorities and Transport for Wales to determine service levels. To do this they will have to consider how best to serve key workers and support economic growth, while considering capacity issues and potential staff shortages.
This is the first stage of a wider plan which will see the public sector funders of the bus industry begin to regain control of buses for the first time since de-regulation in the 1980s.
In the longer-term the Welsh Government, supported by Transport for Wales and in collaboration with local authorities and bus operators, will develop the BES to form the basis of a new funding scheme which will allow the £100m+ public contribution to bus operations to put the needs of passengers ahead of the needs of shareholders.
Lee Waters, Deputy Transport Minister, said: “The coronavirus pandemic has led to passenger numbers falling by around 90%. It has therefore been necessary to take action and provide funding to secure the industry’s future.
“As well as providing short-term funding with conditions that secure public value, I want the Bus Emergency Scheme to be the start of a pathway to a greater say for public sector funders and users reshaping our bus network in the interests of passengers across Wales.”
Tories press government to meet pledge on care home testing
Janet Finch-Saunders MS, Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Older People and Social Care has called for Health Minister Vaughan Gething to speed up the introduction of fortnightly Covid-19 testing in care homes.
Her comments come after the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics report there have been 826 deaths in Welsh care homes since the start of the outbreak in March.
“It’s only a few weeks since the shocking news that 1,097 residents were discharged from hospital to care homes without being tested for Coronavirus,” she said.
“The Minister has promised fortnightly tests for residents, but these have yet to be implemented in all areas of Wales.
“And so, I and my Welsh Conservative colleagues call for this to be implemented immediately or have the reasons why the Labour-led Welsh Government will not do – or cannot achieve – this to be made public.”
Plaid Cymru call for more clarity on face mask rules
Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Health Minister Rhun ap Iorwerth MS has called for more clarity on the rules for the wearing face masks following the lifting of the five-mile travel rule in Wales announced yesterday.
Last month the Welsh Government recommended that people in Wales wear three-layer face coverings in situations where social distancing is not possible.
In England wearing face coverings was made compulsory on public transport two weeks ago and In Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said earlier this week the use of face coverings will become mandatory in shops in Scotland from next week.
More than 50 countries around the world have made wearing face masks compulsory to varying degrees due to the covid-19 pandemic.
Mr ap Iorwerth said “Now that guidelines on limits are to be lifted altogether, what’s important is what people do at their destination. Distancing, handwashing, and the wearing of face coverings now become more, not less, important.
“I’d still like to hear a firming up of face covering rules in enclosed areas, for example. Let’s also have clarity on the steps to be taken and the support that will be made available if there is a need to reintroduce some of restrictions in response to local outbreaks. And I’m also reiterating my calls to make maximum use of testing capacity so that the Test, Trace, Protect system can identify outbreaks urgently.”
Stations closed due to social distancing worries
Transport for Wales has announced the temporary closure of five stations due to concerns over maintaining social distancing for passengers and staff.
Platforms at the affected stations are either too short or too curved to allow the opening of two train doors which are needed to allow a safe distance between customers and conductors.
From Monday trains will no longer stop at Llanfairpwll and Valley on Anglesey, Conwy, Gilfach Fargoed in Caerphilly county or Sugar Loaf in Powys.