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Ferries cancelled as freight down 70% at Fishguard following Covid travel restrictions and Brexit

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THE LARGEST Irish Sea ferry operator has cancelled 12 sailings over the coming five days due to travel restrictions, a post-Brexit decline in freight volumes and problems in supply chains.

Stena Line has reduced its Dublin-Holyhead and Rosslare–Fishguard schedules, saying that problems caused by new customs and regulatory checks have significantly reduced freight traffic.

Trade volumes have fallen significantly since the UK’s departure from the EU came into effect on January 1st as importers struggle with the customs, regulatory and agricultural border controls applied to all goods arriving into Irish ports from Britain in the past week.

Eight sailings between Rosslare and Fishguard and four sailings between Dublin and Holyhead have been cancelled between Friday night and Tuesday morning.

These mostly off-peak sailings, including late-night departures, are not regarded as viable currently given the low freight volumes and the restrictions on passengers who must produce a negative Covid-19 test on their arrival into Irish ports from Saturday.

Stena said that freight volumes are slowly starting to creep back up and that it was keeping a close eye on the figures..

It is currently reviewing schedules and may reduce some crossings on a temporary basis.

A spokesperson for the company said: “Our freight volumes are currently down approximately 70% on the same time last year, which is also the position at Holyhead Port.”

“To a certain degree this has been expected given the volume of stock piling which occurred prior to Christmas.

“Freight volumes have slowly started to return this week and we are monitoring developments closely.

“In addition to the fall off in freight volumes, with the Irish Government imposing virtually a complete travel ban resulting in almost no passengers travelling, we are currently reviewing our sailings and schedules and may reduce some sailings on a temporary basis during this unprecedented time.”

Mid and West Wales MS, Eluned Morgan also voiced concerns. She met with local management of Stena Line and Irish Ferries before Christmas.

“January is quieter time for ferry services but as we know, commercial freight sustains these important links all year round,” said Eluned.

“This is the first time that an operator like Stena has admitted the very real impacts of Brexit has forced them to cut services.

“Huge quantities of trade is now bypassing Fishguard and Pembroke because it is easier to meet deadlines by avoiding Britain altogether. The Tories hailed Brexit as a way of cutting red tape, instead it has created barriers, more paperwork and economic uncertainty.

“Regardless of the views of some Brexiteers, our ports are important gateways to Europe. For Wales, Pembrokeshire must remain a gateway to Europe for trade, tourism and all of the jobs linked to these ports.”

Jackie Jones, Labour MS candidate for Preseli Pembrokeshire, who was also one of the last members of the European Parliament added:

“This is a very disappointing announcement and one that does not need to be repeated. Daily ferry services have operated between Fishguard and Rosslare for the last 115 years, through pandemics, wars and great economic uncertainty.

“We must not allow Brexit to take this important transport link which has put Fishguard on the map to disappear.”

There has been no word yet from Irish Ferries, who operate from Pembroke Dock on the impact of Brexit, so far the firm has decided to to comment.

Earlier this week local councillors expressed their concern over the future of Fishguard Harbour, which employs 150 people, with Cllr Pat Davies saying that there was “real concern in the community.”

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Committee stalls on council tax rise as Covid-19 impacts discussed

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A PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL committee has decided not to commit to giving their preference on the rise of council tax in the county because of the knock on effect of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Councillors have been discussing the potential rise in council tax as part of their budget setting process for 2021-22.

Cabinet member Cllr Bob Kilmister explained that the settlement they had been expecting from the Welsh Government had been ‘better than anticipated’.

Prior to Christmas the council was looking at a funding gap of £25m but after the settlement from Cardiff, they were looking at a gap of £14.5m.

It was suggested that the improved figure could help the council alleviate the pressure felt by families when it came to paying their council tax.

Around 3% of the population are exempt from paying council tax but Cllr Kilmister added that they did not want to hit those people again by reducing the services that they used.

The council’s interventions with looked after children has also gone up by 50% as a result of the pandemic.

Rises of 3% and 5% have been put forward but the council’s Policy and Pre-Decision Overview and Scrutiny Committee, which met on Tuesday, January 19, decided not to commit to giving their preference.

Councillors said they were cautious about imposing a 5% increase as families across the county had been hit hard by the pandemic.

Cllr Tony Baron asked if a 3% increase in council tax could be fully costed adding: “We see a very dramatic improvement in the position we had before Christmas.

“Perhaps it would be useful to consider whether a fraction of that improvement should be used to take pressure off residents in the form of council tax increases.”

Cllr Tom Tudor added: “I am cautious about increasing council tax by 5%. Pembrokeshire has the second highest percentage of furloughed workers in Wales and that does not include those who are not eligible for the furlough scheme.”

“If we are in a better position than we were predicted I am rather cautious about taking on an increase of 5% at this point in time and I think families who have been affected by the pandemic have been, I think Bob said, in ‘dire straits’.”

Cllr Kilmister went on to say that he was ‘extremely confident’ that the council’s board that was set up to look at the budget would be able to deliver on its challenges.

Speaking on child poverty, Cllr Mike James said that there was poverty throughout Pembrokeshire and added that there would need to be a lot more debate on the rise in council tax before a decision could be made.

Cllr Kilmister added: “I don’t want to put up council tax. The poorest people who are not paying council tax are the ones who are using our services more. If you lower the budget you are affecting them again.

“Child poverty is huge, our interventions with looked-after children has gone up by 50% this financial year as a result of the pandemic.

“There are massive challenges. We have to make sure that those who have been affected badly aren’t affected even more.”

Committee chair Cllr Josh Beynon said: “If we don’t increase council tax and we cut services instead, what happens to those looked after children in twenty years’ time?”

Cllr Rhys Sinnett proposed that the committee should not commit to giving a preference to a rise in council tax.

Seven members voted in favour while two, Cllrs Tim Evans and Josh Beynon, voted against.

The council’s Cabinet will make a final decision on the budget on February 15.

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Health

Faulty Covid swabs may have led to ‘false positives’ in Wales

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A NUMBER of faulty Covid swabs may have led to false positive coronavirus test results, the Welsh Government has said.

Concerns have been raised over a “small proportion” of affected Covid-19 swabs which were used in hospital settings, health board-run community testing units, and Welsh Ambulance Service Trust mobile testing units.

The official statement reads: “As a result of the laboratory testing quality control measures in place and the diligence of Public Health Wales laboratory staff, we became aware on Friday 15 January 2021 of an issue affecting a small number of swabs used in sampling for Covid-19.

“These swabs are used to sample for Covid-19 in hospital settings, at health board-run community testing units and WAST-operated mobile testing units. These swabs are not used by the lighthouse labs and so tests undertaken through our regional and local testing sites are unaffected.

“As soon as this problem was discovered, all microbiology labs and testing centres in Wales were notified so that the affected swabs could be taken out of circulation.

“NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership is working with Public Health Wales, Local Health Boards, the manufacturer of the swabs COPAN and the UK supplier/distributor Thermo Fisher Scientific to identify and isolate the swabs potentially affected to prevent their on-going use.

“The affected swabs were shipped into Wales direct from the manufacturer COPAN between 18 November and 14 December 2020. NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership has isolated all relevant supplies as a precaution while further investigations are undertaken.

“Public Health Wales have advised that where these swabs have been used they pose little or no risk to public health. As a safeguard, further checks are being undertaken. The issue detected may have affected the accuracy of a small proportion of test results leading to false positives. However, based on what we currently know Public Health Wales is confident that this does not affect the overall epidemiological picture.

“The Covid-19 Test, Trace, Protect system continues to operate as normal and alternative swabs are being used.”

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Twenty asylum seekers from Penally Camp have been transferred out

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TWENTY asylum seekers from Penally Camp have been transferred to alternative accommodation.

There was a public outcry from local residents at the demonstrations by the camp residents which took place on Wednesday and Thursday last week during the lockdown.

The men at the camp told a Herald reporter that they were unhappy with the standard of their accommodation at the former military base and were complaining about the poor food, lack of sanitation and being told to sleep six to a room during the pandemic.

A representative from the law firm representing the group of men said that the Men housed at the camp are, understandably, becoming increasingly desperate and it is likely that a “serious incident will occur” unless urgent action is taken.

The spokesperson said: “We have brought the serious vulnerabilities of our clients to the attention of the Home Office. Their response to date has been to transfer the twenty men to alternative accommodation. We cannot, and should not have to, make transfer requests on behalf of every person housed at the camp for the Home Office to recognise that this is unacceptable.”

The news comes as a coronavirus outbreak at a former army barracks being used to house asylum seekers in Kent could now have grown to at least 100 positive cases according to an ITV News report on Wednesday (Jan 19)

Welsh Liberal Democrats have criticised the lack of response from the Home Office to a Parliamentary Question from Wendy Chamberlain MP who had asked about what plans there were to relocate the rest of the asylum seekers at Penally Camp to alternative accommodation.

In response the Home Office Minister, Chris Philp MP, said that a rapid review had recommended that the Home Office conducts a ‘deep dive’ on its approach to initial accommodation during the coronavirus pandemic.

Alistair Cameron, Welsh Liberal Democrat Candidate for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire told The Herald: “Mr Philp needs to speak in plain English and say exactly what he means by a ‘deep dive’.

The Asylum Seekers are staying in the middle of Winter in army barracks which are unsuitable as long term accommodation. They are sleeping 6 to a room and run the risk of being infected with coronavirus.
“Rather than speaking in jargon, Mr Philp and his colleagues need to take urgent action and move the asylum seekers to safer, warmer and cleaner accommodation which any of us
would expect if we were in similar circumstances.”

Regards the outbreak in the Kent camp, Chris Philp said that he was “incredibly disappointed” to learn that the actions of some residents had contributed to the outbreak.

He said: “A number of individuals refused tests and have been either refusing to self-isolate or follow social distancing rules, despite repeated requests to do so and these being national guidelines to protect the NHS and save lives.

“These individuals could face enforcement action and are not only risking their own health but the health of staff looking after them and the communities who are accommodating them.”

ITV News has reported Mr Philp’s response has caused anger among some of the asylum seekers within the barracks who say that they should not be blamed.

An Iranian asylum seeker who did not want to be named said he was “furious”, adding: “It’s 100% not our fault. Do they not think it has something to do with putting us all in one place? Putting 400 people in one place is a major risk!”

The Penally camp may be here for sometime to come an MOD notice suggests.

The notice reads: “There will be no firing at Penally Gallery Ranges until November 2021. The Ministry of Defence has ceased all firing activity at Penally Gallery for 12 months in agreement with a Home Office request.

“This is due to the range’s close proximity to the Home Office Camp, Penally Training Camp. The Home Office has raised their concern that, given some of the intended occupants of the camp will have fled war zones, housing them within earshot of a range would be potentially traumatic for those individuals.

“The range could still be used if there is an urgent operational requirement. A new firing notice will be published before any firing takes place on the range.”

 

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