Senedd roundup: Tories attack government over care home testing

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Tories attack government over care home testing

Welsh Conservatives Shadow Minister for Social Care, Janet Finch-Saunders MS, has criticised the government after it was revealed that 30 care homes are yet to be tested for coronavirus.

“It is scandalous that, despite pledging that all care homes would be tested by June 12, 30 care homes still have not – meaning the Welsh Government has missed yet another target,” she said.

On Thursday Health Minister Vaughan Gething revealed that by the beginning of last week over 22,800 care home residents and 28,780 staff had been tested.

There are more than 1,200 residential care homes in Wales.

Of the 30 that have not yet agreed and completed testing, the minister said: “These are care homes where there has not been an outbreak of coronavirus.

“Understandably they have been reluctant to allow testing to take place because they are worried about the risk of coronavirus entering their homes, however small that risk may be.

“Health boards, Care Forum Wales and Care Inspectorate Wales are working with these homes to understand their reasons for not accepting the offer of testing and to encourage take up.”

Calling for an apology from Mr Gething for failing to hit the target, the shadow minister said: “…care homes have some of society’s most vulnerable people, and they deserve so much more support than they are currently receiving from the Welsh Government.”

“Over a month ago the Health Minister was clear that he was expanding testing to every resident and member of staff so to reduce harm and bring further reassurance to those living and working in care homes and their families. He should apologise for failing to reach some residents and staff quickly and assess if any harm has been caused by these delays.”

Public Health Wales has confirmed one further death due to coronavirus in the last 24 hours. Total deaths from the virus are now 1,476.

There were 25 new cases reported, taking the total of people in Wales confirmed to have been infected by the virus to 15,026.

The single death was reported in the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board area.

There were no figures immediately available for the number of tests carried out yesterday due to a technical problem.

Sewage Plant. Photo by Hermann Hammer from Pixabay

Pilot programme set up to measure for coronavirus in wastewater treatment plants

A pilot programme which will flag early signs of the coronavirus in Welsh communities by monitoring sewage systems, has been awarded almost half a million pounds.

The Welsh Government has awarded the funding to a consortium led by Bangor University, working with Cardiff University, Public Health Wales and Dwr Cymru Welsh Water.

They will develop a monitoring programme that can measure the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in wastewater. The presence of SARS-CoV-2 in human waste is common in almost all confirmed Coronavirus cases.

The pilot programme will be funded for an initial six months, sampling will begin almost immediately in a small number of water treatment plants, rapidly expanding to up to 20 treatment plants that cover approximately 75% of the Welsh population.

Whilst monitoring for Coronavirus the systems established will also be able to determine whether other types of respiratory viruses are also present, which will help public health monitoring.

The frequent monitoring of coronavirus levels at wastewater treatment plants can offer a signal of the infection rate in the community and provide early sign that coronavirus is present.

The World Health Organisation notes there is currently no evidence that coronavirus has been transmitted via sewerage systems.

Professor Andrew Weightman, Head of the Organisms and Environment Division at Cardiff University’s School of Biosciences, said: ”Research suggests people start to shed the virus in faeces up to about two weeks before they get symptoms so this approach can also be used as an early warning system to indicate when levels of the virus are rising in the community. This will help us predict the potential re-emergence of Covid-19 outbreaks – and ultimately help us protect communities across Wales.

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Focus on social impact of pandemic ahead of lockdown review

Professor Chris Jones, Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Wales, recommend the government’s focus should be “cautiously rebalanced towards reducing the wider economic and societal impacts of the pandemic” in his advice to ministers ahead of yesterday’s review of the coronavirus lockdown measures.

Noting the decline in the number of new cases, existing cases, and deaths in recent weeks, he warned that the R value “is a less reliable measure due to the daily variation that we see with low numbers of cases,” but said the current prevalence of COVID-19 in Wales is around 1 in 10,000.

The R value is the reproduction number and is used to calculate the rate at which diseases spread.

Professor Jones writes in the report: “In addition to the direct impact of the virus, it is evident that the longer term societal impacts of COVID-19 are likely to be very significant due to the known harms that result from economic downturns, and particularly from the associated increases in unemployment.

“Learning from previous recessions shows this can have the hardest impact on those already disadvantaged and will almost certainly increase inequalities.

“Persisting adverse effects include increased risks of recurring periods of unemployment, lower pay, lower well-being and a higher incidence of chronic health conditions.

“Particularly pronounced and long-lasting adverse effects are likely on young people entering the labour market for the first time, who may incur life-long socio-economic penalties, including – for some – reduced life expectancy.

“Children and young people whose education has been disrupted also face the risk of worse socio-economic outcomes.”

“While ensuring continuing measures to avoid direct harm from COVID-19 infection, a cautious and step-wise approach to easement should be taken to minimise long-term socio-economic effects of the pandemic.”

Last week the Office of National statistics  confirmed that 316,500 Welsh workers have been furloughed since March under the UK Government scheme to preserve jobs, and on Tuesday the ONS reported out of work benefit claims have doubled In Wales compared to last year.

Tourists in Beddgelert. Picture by IIya Kuzhekin (CC BY 3.0)

Plaid Cymru calls for more support for tourism sector

Plaid Cymru has called on the government to make extra funding available to help businesses in the tourist sector survive through the winter and called on the industry and communities to work together when visitors return.

The tourist sector in Wales was closed, along with all other non-essential businesses, when the coronavirus crisis struck in March.

The tourism industry is worth an estimated £3bn every year to Wales’ economy and directly supports about 120,000 jobs, almost 10% of the workforce.

First Minister Mark Drakeford announced yesterday that travel to tourist attractions could begin from 6 July and, if infection rates remained low, self-contained accommodation could open from 13 July.

Mr Drakeford also spoke about the concerns of communities worried about the impact an influx of visitors from areas where the virus is more prevalent could have, and urged the industry to address those worries:

“If we reopen tourism in parts of Wales, when visitors arrive, they will need to know that their presence there is welcome in those local communities,” he said.

Plaid Cymru Shadow Minister for the Economy Helen Mary Jones MS said: “This is a welcome announcement and will be good news in particular for the tourism sector. However, the sector has still lost two thirds of its season and will still need long term support to survive the winter.

“There certainly shouldn’t be a tension between business and communities. If it’s not safe to ease restrictions, then communities shouldn’t be sacrificed – but equally business shouldn’t be sacrificed either and for any loss of income they suffer they should receive extra support.

“It’s not a zero-sum game between our businesses and our communities and both should be working together.

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£15 million invested in the development of ‘Covid-proof’ travel

A major new package of funding has been announced by the Welsh Government to create more space for people to travel under social distancing restrictions.

The £15.4 million is part of Welsh Government’s ‘Transforming Towns’ initiative which aims to make it safer and easier for people to get around their local towns.

Councils will get investment for schemes that widen pavements and create more space for cyclists and help buses travel around towns more easily.

The funding is accompanied by new guidance aimed at helping those responsible for public spaces re-design areas with high footfall such as town centres, community areas and green spaces.

Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport Lee Waters said: “We asked local authorities to prioritise those schemes which can be delivered within the next three to four months and which can have the greatest impact in their local area – hopefully making a real difference to how people see and get around their local area.  Today is hopefully the start of our long-term project to enhance our town centres and public areas.

“£2 million of the funding is specifically for schemes around schools. With children starting to return to classrooms in the next few weeks, it is important to enable safe walking and cycling journeys and maintain social distance at the school gates.”

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