Senedd roundup: New figures confirm over a quarter of deaths in Wales involve COVID-19
Owen Donovan, Senedd Home
Latest figures published by the Office for National Statistics have confirmed 218 deaths in Wales involving COVID-19 in the week ending 27 November a decrease from 223 the previous week.
The total number of deaths from all causes was 797, down from 848 for the week ending 20 November but 151 deaths (23.4%) higher than the five-year average.
There were 58 care home deaths in Wales where COVID-19 was mentioned on the death certificate, the same as last week which was the highest number since mid May.
Deaths due to the virus accounted for 27.4% of all deaths in Wales for the seven days covered by the data.
According to the ONS, the total number of deaths in Wales involving COVID-19 from the start of the pandemic, including those registered by 5 December is 3,767.
Deaths counted by the ONS are when Covid-19 is mentioned by doctors on the death certificate and which occur in all settings – including hospitals, care homes, hospices and people’s homes.
The daily figures release by Public Health Wales only include the deaths of a hospital patients or care home resident where COVID-19 has been confirmed with a positive laboratory test and the clinician suspects this was a causative factor in the death.
According to PHW’s latest figures there have been 2,725 deaths due to the virus since March.
Today’s report from Public Health Wales has confirmed 31 deaths due to COVID-19 and 780 new cases of the virus across Wales.
Eight of the deaths were reported by Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board and four by Swansea Bay.
The highest number of positive tests for the virus were in Swansea (93) followed by Rhondda Cynon Taf (89) and Bridgend (82).
Neath Port Talbot has the highest infection rate over the last seven days, up from 621.7 yesterday to 632.2 per 100,000 people.
The surge in infections since the end of the national firebreak lockdown last month means nine of the 22 local authorities in Wales are now reporting infection rates of over 400 per 100,000 people
Four of those are covered by Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, Blaenau Gwent (555.4) Newport (455.8) Caerphilly (447.3) and Torfaen (437.4).
Merthyr Tydfil has the highest positive test proportion in Wales at 27.1% per 100,000 tests
Government to consider widening mass-testing programme
First Minister’s Questions
Adam Price MS (Plaid, Carms. E & Dinefwr) cited studies relating to the Slovakian national mass testing programme, which was said to have brought Covid-19 infection rates down by 60% – a faster decrease than that arising from the Welsh firebreak lockdown.
Additionally, there were findings relating to the type of test used, with 90% of infections being picked up compared to 50% in Liverpool’s mass testing – which relied on lateral flow tests. Would the Welsh Government consider looking at a Slovak-style mass testing programme? Were there also moves to switch to a period of pre-Christmas social distancing/isolation for schoolchildren?
The First Minister was happy to ask the technical advisory group to look again at Slovak-style mass testing and a lot has already been learned from mass testing in Merthyr Tydfil and the lower Cynon Valley.
Lateral flow tests have a part to play in picking up infectious persons when properly calibrated, while the more detailed PCR tests pick up both the infection and the infected.
The First Minister confirmed that there are no plans to close schools early except in individual circumstances (such as a localised outbreak). There was evidence from mass testing in Merthyr that the positivity rate was lower in schoolchildren than the rest of the population, suggesting controlled school environments may be safer than mixing with households or elsewhere.
Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies MS (Con, Preseli Pembs.), reminded the chamber that when the firebreak was announced it was said to be the best chance of keeping Covid-19 under control. However, Wales was now the only part of the UK with rising case numbers, with over 1,800 coronavirus-related patients in hospital – the highest number since the pandemic began.
The Health Minister has dropped hints that a new firebreak or tighter restrictions may be needed but provided no further details; would the First Minister do so? On a more positive note, with the first vaccines being administered, was there a further update on the strategy for roll-out?
The First Minister pointed out that the Conservatives didn’t support the firebreak despite it having successfully suppressed the virus temporarily. Since then, Covid-19 has circulated faster and further than previously modelled; nobody could now deny that the controversial restrictions on the hospitality sector are needed.
There were seemingly no plans for further restrictions this side of Christmas, though further work will be undertaken on possible measures post-Christmas.
Vaccination planning started in June 2020 and the NHS was said to be as well-prepared as they could be. When the volume of doses increases, more staff will need to be drafted to help administer vaccines, possibly including community pharmacists and others.
Photo by Chuck Underwood from Pixabay£500 payment scheme opens to parents and carers of children required to self-isolate
Parents and carers on low incomes with children who are self-isolating will now be eligible for a £500 support payment from the government.
The Self-Isolation Support Scheme was launched last month to provide financial support to people on low incomes or facing financial hardship when they were asked to self-isolate by the NHS Wales Test Trace Protect service.
It will now be extended to help parents and carers who have to take time off work to look after their children when they have to self-isolate because of a coronavirus outbreak in their school or childcare setting.
To qualify, applicants must have a child attending a school or childcare setting up to and including in year eight – or up to age 25 if the learner has multiple and complex additional needs – and have received a formal notification to self-isolate from Test Trace Protect or their education or childcare setting.
First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “Working from home is not an option for everyone so when child has to self-isolate, this can be a stressful period for parents and carers.
“A significant number of people are losing income because they are unable to work while looking after children who cannot go to school or their normal childcare setting because of coronavirus.
“Extending this scheme will help ease the financial hardship some parents and are facing, helping them care for their children.”
People will be able to apply for the self-isolation payment via their local authority website from 14 December and payments will be backdated to 23 October.
Minister warns Brexit disruption could affect vaccine supplies.
Health Minister Vaughan Gething has warned that any disruption caused by a no-deal Brexit could affect supplies of the coronavirus vaccine.
The roll out of the first COVID-19 vaccinations across Wales began earlier today and it’s hoped that up to 6,000 people will receive it by the end of the week.
Mr Gething said work had been done to make “alternative arrangements” but that any disruption was an “unwelcome distraction”.
“There is no getting away from the fact that disrupting our ports could disrupt supplies,” he added.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to attend Brexit summit in Brussels later this week but says securing a deal will be “very difficult”.
If a deal is not agreed, from 1 January border checks and taxes will be introduced for goods travelling between the UK and the EU.
Committee seeks assurances over the new national curriculum’s flexibility
Education & Young People Committee
Stage 1 Report: Curriculum & Assessment Bill (pdf)
- Broad agreement that a new curriculum is needed, but concerns over possible big variations between schools.
- At least 14 petitions were submitted to the Senedd calling for specific topics to mandatory elements.
- Recommendation that mental health, Welsh history and BAME history are specifically included in statutory guidance and codes.
- Committee says the Senedd should have a binding vote on the new Relationship & Sexuality Education code.
The Curriculum & Assessment Bill will introduce a new national curriculum for Wales, which – if the Bill passes next year – will be phased in from September 2022.
There was broad agreement from witnesses that the national curriculum needed to change, but there was hesitancy from parts of the teaching profession, with a preference for a tweak of the existing curriculum over wholescale reform. Young people’s top priority was a curriculum to prepare them with life skills.
Another concern was the move away from individual subjects to broader areas of learning, which has already resulted in some schools merging departments and the loss of some specialist subject teachers.
The headline conclusion from the inquiry was a concern that the in-built flexibility within the new curriculum will lead to a great deal of difference between different parts of Wales and different schools depending on the available resources.
While there was praise for how teachers are to be given the freedom to be more creative – and assurances that the basics (numeracy, literacy etc.) won’t be ignored – there were worries that radically different teaching approaches and priorities could lead to gaps in knowledge – widening the attainment gap between haves and have-nots. There were additional concerns about how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted teacher training ahead of the new curriculum’s roll-out.
Teaching unions believed it was important to keep the curriculum non-prescriptive (not forcing certain topics or subjects to be taught).
At least 14 separate petitions have been submitted to the Senedd demanding that topics as diverse as water safety, mental health first aid, LGBTQ+ history and menstrual well-being are included as compulsory elements of the curriculum. This is alongside higher-profile demands such as Welsh/BAME/post-colonial history and life-saving skills.
The Committee recommended that explicit references to mental health, Welsh history and BAME history/diversity and identity are included in the guidance and codes which will be published once the Bill becomes law.
Elsewhere, the Committee backed moves to remove references to English as a compulsory element of the curriculum concerning Welsh language immersion for the under-7s.
The Committee also supported holding a binding Senedd vote on the new Relationship & Sexuality Education (RSE) Code.
However, the Committee didn’t believe this Bill was the best place to address collective acts of worship in schools. They further concluded that headteachers’ power to amend the curriculum for individuals (such as those with additional learning needs) shouldn’t be used to deny choice or inhibit asperations.
Proposals for a management buy-out of Peacocks
Administrators of the Cardiff-based clothing retailer, Peacocks, have received a management buy-out proposal, involving a mix of current management and a private investor (Phoenix Retail).
Peacocks’ parent company, Edinburgh Woollen Mill, entered administration last month.
The proposal, if accepted, would include a buy out of the company, its employees and stores, with a pledge to improve Peacocks’ online presence.
At the moment, stores continue to run as a going concern, though a buy-out could protect up to 5,000 jobs and 470 stores around the UK. The company would also continue to be headquartered in Cardiff.