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Pembrokeshire lockdown ‘disproportionate’ as cases locally were below trigger-point

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PEMBROKESHIRE was plunged into the Welsh Government’s ‘fire-break’ lockdown even though the County does not meet the criteria for a local lockdown.

The Welsh Government’s Technical Advisory Cell, which advises it on responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, published the information and data relied upon to support the lockdown on Monday, October 19.

The paper highlights that Wales has crossed the threshold of circuit breakers agreed ahead of summer’s easing of restrictions. It expresses high confidence that others will be breached in the next 2-3 weeks.

It states: ‘The Welsh Government aim of protecting both lives and livelihoods requires a balancing of harms, and action is now required to maintain the balance’.

However, Pembrokeshire – along with Ceredigion and Powys – are below the threshold for restrictions’ imposition. Pembrokeshire, in particular, not only has a low incidence of cases but also consistently low positive tests.

Paul Davies MS, the Leader of the Opposition in the Welsh Parliament and Senedd Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire, called the lockdown “not-proportionate”

He said: “The impact on businesses in areas such as Powys, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion, who have the lowest rate of Covid-19 cases in Wales, will be severe at a time when they are desperately struggling to recover from the pandemic so far this year.”

In Pembrokeshire, there are 33 cases per 100,000 of population. In Cardiff, that figure exceeds 250 per 100,000. When the Welsh Government imposed local and hyperlocal lockdowns in other local authority areas, the basis for imposing them was a persistent and rising infection rate over 50 per hundred thousand.

In Carmarthenshire, the number of cases had begun to decline following the local lockdown in Llanelli.

In Ceredigion, the rate per 100,000 of population is even lower than in Pembrokeshire.

All Welsh local authorities are above 5% positivity, apart from Pembrokeshire (3.7%).

The rate of incidence is rising fastest in over-60s.

Pressed on why the Welsh Government imposed a national lockdown at a press conference on Monday, First Minister Mark Drakeford said controlling the virus’ spread was a national priority and that the Welsh Government had taken into account a shortage of intensive care beds in all areas of Wales.

Although the number of COVID cases in hospital is not above expectations, because of underlying critical care needs there is an insufficient number of critical care beds and/or staff to handle a large COVID outbreak, and maintain existing non-COVID intensive care treatments.

The Welsh Government is also contending with a critical shortage of Intensive Care staff as it approaches its busiest period of the year.

The Welsh Government faces an avalanche of criticism from business groups and Conservatives who claim that while a lockdown might be the only option in urban areas in South Wales and North

East Wales, there is no need for one across rural Wales, where local economies took a massive hit from the loss of tourism during the summer season.

Stephen Crabb MP said: “The scientific evidence for so-called circuit-break or firebreak lockdowns is pretty weak. When it comes to locking down Pembrokeshire and other parts of Wales where rates of infection are low, I think the Welsh Government have not made a very strong case at all.

“Local people have worked incredibly hard to follow rules and keep infections low but we are now paying the price for the fact that Welsh Government lost control of the virus in the Valleys and South East Wales.”

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North Pembrokeshire school closures explained

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PEMBROKESHIRE’S education chief has explained the decision to keep six North Pembrokeshire schools closed today (Tuesday, 24th November).

The schools – which were also closed on Monday following the increased spread of coronavirus in South Ceredigion – are:

• Ysgol Preseli
• Ysgol y Frenni
• Ysgol Llandudoch
• Ysgol Eglwyswrw
• Ysgol Cilgerran
• Ysgol Clydau.

The Pembrokeshire schools are closed as a precaution as they share services – such as transport – with the Ceredigion schools.
Pembrokeshire County Council’s Director of Education, Steven Richards-Downes, said the decision to keep the schools closed was
based around a series of meetings yesterday involving the Authority, Ceredigion County Council and Public Health Wales.

He explained: “Due to the sheer volume of contact tracing work the Cardigan situation has resulted in – and the widespread nature of the cases now across the town – many contacts remain to be spoken to.

“The view of the Incident Management Team in Pembrokeshire was to keep the schools closed to allow the contact tracing teams time to get hold of everyone they needed to and then review the decision later today.

“Everyone can be assured that it is our intention to re-open the schools at the earliest opportunity once we are satisfied that there will be no individuals within school setting who should be self-isolating.

“There will be an announcement this afternoon about the status of the schools currently closed and teaching staff will be in touch with families to arrange blended and distant learning.

“Officers are working hard dealing with this situation and we do appreciate the inconvenience caused. However, our priority has always been tackling this pandemic and ensuring that we stop the spread of the virus.”

Mr Richards-Downes added that he was grateful to teaching staff, parents and pupils for their co-operation in what had been a challenging few days.

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Masks now advised in all secondary schools

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PUPILS across Wales are now being advised to wear facemasks in all communal areas of secondary schools (including playgrounds), colleges and on transport to and from places of learning by the Welsh Government.

Although not compulsory, the new recommendations have been made by ministers to ensure a consistent approach in tackling COVID-19 across Wales.

People picking up and dropping off children are also advised to wear face coverings too to minimise the risk of catching or passing on COVID-19.

The new guidance, aimed mainly at secondary schools, which the Education Minister has described as ‘easy to follow’ was announced today and now means that the only spaces where staff and pupils can safely remove their facemasks is in the classroom.

The majority of councils already require secondary pupils and staff to wear masks in corridors and on most school transport with those rules extended to primary pupils too in some areas.

Education minister Kirsty Williams said: “It is vital that young people, parents, adults and the workforce feel confident that all measures are being taken to ensure the educational environments are as safe as possible.

“We have been clear that we will keep every policy under review and will continue to follow scientific advice. The policy we are announcing today does just that”.

The new advice has been recommended by the Welsh Government’s Technical Advisory Group (Tag), which has been looking at the “possibility of wearing face coverings for older age groups in more circumstances, including on public and dedicated transport” and could “even include in the classroom on a risk assessed basis…. balancing benefits with harms to overall wellbeing of students.”

Tag is also looking at how feasible a mass asymptomatic testing programme in schools and colleges could be, the Welsh Government has said it is considering that approach.

Debbie Thomas, Head of Policy at the National Deaf Children’s Society Cymru, said: “Face masks and coverings in communal areas could have serious consequences for Wales’ 2,500 deaf children, almost all of whom rely on lip reading and facial expressions to communicate.
“Socialising in corridors, break time chats and playground games are all rites of passage, but deaf young people now risk missing out because they can’t understand what others are saying. They’re also more likely to experience loneliness, isolation and bullying.
“Public health is the priority, but schools and colleges must move quickly to introduce reasonable adjustments to help deaf young people during this difficult time.”

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Two day centres to close temporarily as a precaution

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TWO north Pembrokeshire Day facilities for older people and people with learning disabilities are to close temporarily as a precaution following the rise in coronavirus cases in Ceredigion.

Bro Preseli Day Centre in Crymych and Wintern Day Centre, Goodwick, are to close temporarily from tomorrow (Tuesday, November 24).

The decision to close each site will be reviewed regularly.

It is emphasised that there have been no positive cases of Covid-19 detected at either site and the temporary closures have been put in place as a precaution.

 

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