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New Covid vaccination strategy published for Wales

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ALL eligible adults will be offered a Covid vaccine by the autumn, under ambitious plans published by the Welsh Government on Monday (Jan 11).

Health Minister Vaughan Gething published the Covid-19 Vaccination Strategy, which sets out three key milestones.

It comes as the latest figures show more than 86,000 people have received the vaccine. Wales will publish daily vaccine figures from today.

The three milestones set out in the plan are:

  • By mid-February – all care home residents and staff; frontline health and social care staff; everyone over 70 and everyone who is clinically extremely vulnerable will have been offered vaccination.
  • By the Spring – vaccination will have been offered to all the other phase one priority groups. This is everyone over 50 and everyone who is at-risk because they have an underlying health condition.
  • By the autumn – vaccination will have been offered to all other eligible adults in Wales, in line with any guidance issued by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
    In total, around 2.5m people throughout Wales could be offered Covid vaccines by September, depending on further advice from the JCVI.

The strategy depends on sufficient and regular supplies of the vaccines being delivered. It will be kept under review in line with supply of the vaccine and any further advice from the JCVI.

Health Minister Vaughan Gething said: “The Covid vaccines offer our best hope of a return to the normality we are looking forward to after such a difficult year, which has turned all our lives upside down.

“Delivering this vaccination programme to the people in Wales is a huge task but an enormous amount of work is going on to make it a success.

“We are making good progress with thousands more people being vaccinated every day.

“Over the coming week we will see the programme pick up further speed with more clinics opening and the first vaccines to be given by pharmacists.”

To reach as many people as safely and as quickly as possible, we are continuing to accelerate the vaccination programme as more supplies of the two vaccines become available.

This includes:

  • The number of mass vaccination centres increasing to 35 over the coming weeks, with at least one in each county. We started with seven, five weeks ago.
  • Military support in the mass vaccination centres – there are 14 immunisers and 70 other personnel providing support.
  • 100 GP practices providing clinics by the end of this week.
  • The first pharmacies to provide the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine will start vaccinating in North Wales in the next week.
  • 14 mobile units, run by community nurses, which are taking the vaccine to care homes.
  • Text message vaccination appointment reminders.

Dr Gillian Richardson, who leads the Covid vaccination programme in Wales, said: “This is the biggest vaccination programme Wales has ever seen and the NHS is working incredibly hard to get the vaccine to as many people as possible, safely and as quickly as we can.

“People will be invited to come and have a vaccination at a clinic close to their home or at one of the mass vaccination centres. I know everyone is really keen to get their jab but please wait until you are contacted for your turn.

“Vaccination will give us a path out of this pandemic but it will take us a little while to protect all the people in Wales who need it – this is why it’s so important everyone continues to take steps to protect themselves and their families from coronavirus.”

Data for the number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in Wales will be available every week day from today.

The daily release accounts for the total number of vaccines given until 10pm the previous day, which have been recorded on the COVID-19 Welsh Immunisation System. Actual figures will be higher due to ongoing data entry.

Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire’s candidate for the upcoming Senedd elections has raised concerns over the vaccination rollout in Wales.

Welsh Conservative candidate and Pembrokeshire County Councillor Samuel Kurtz said Wales was ‘falling behind’ in the vaccine rollout following a BBC Wales report.

In the BBC Wales report it is confirmed that while the Welsh Government have received 275,000 doses of the two approved Covid-19 vaccines, only 70,000 people had received their first dose after the first month of rollout.

Senedd Candidate Samuel Kurtz feels Wales is ‘falling behind’ in the vaccine rollout (Pic S Kurtz)

Commenting on this report, Cllr Kurtz said: “A month into the vaccination rollout and the Welsh Government have yet to administer half of the vaccines they’ve received. It really does feel like Wales is falling behind.

“While Mark Drakeford may want to say the rollout is not a race, people are rightly looking towards the vaccines as a way to bring this hugely difficult chapter in our history to an end and, more importantly, to save lives.

“We’ve known for months that a mass vaccine rollout will be needed, yet it feels like the Welsh Government have been caught off guard and ill-prepared.

“I’m pleased to see local GP surgeries preparing to deliver the vaccine to their patients and urge the Welsh Government to provide them with all the support they may need to make this rollout a success.”

Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Minister Andrew RT Davies called for a “vaccine army,” led by a Welsh Government Vaccine Minister.

“For weeks now we have been highlighting the slow rollout of the Covid vaccine in Wales and yet still the Welsh Government dither and delay,” he said.

“Instead of getting on and actually delivering what they need to do, we just get told that we need to be patient and this isn’t a sprint.

“The Welsh Government has the vaccine doses and they have the power to get it out to the people that need it the most. They’ve been caught off guard and yet still don’t seem to be in any rush.

“We need a Government Minister to have the single job of delivering their vaccine with the full resources of the Welsh Government alongside NHS Wales, GPs, Pharmacists and anyone else that can help. We need a vaccine army, backed up by our Armed Forces, to get the job done. We cannot afford any more delay.”

In an open letter to the Health Minister, Rhun ap Iorwerth MS, health spokesperson for Plaid Cymru, also called for greater clarity on the vaccine deployment programme, in order to build public trust.

Mr ap Iorwerth raised “real concerns” over the pace, transparency and communications of the programme, and says that the public “simply want to know when they might expect the vaccine.”

He called for a dashboard of information that would allow the public to track progress for themselves, including volume of doses delivered and administered by health board and by priority group.

He said it would “go far” in helping to restore public trust.

Using examples of international good practice, Mr ap Iorwerth asks whether the Health Minister would consider measures such as:

Vaccination centres open 7 days a week

The widespread availability of drive-through style vaccination centres

Reducing wastage by allowing prepared vaccines to be given on a ‘first come first served’ basis at the end of the day.

“There are real concerns about the vaccine deployment programme, not least regarding the pace, transparency and communications during these initial stages. People simply want to know when they might expect the vaccine,” Rhun ap Iorwerth said.

“Setting out targets in Welsh Government’s vaccination plan, and including a dashboard of information which answers questions around how the numbers of doses by health board and priority group, will go far in helping to build public trust, as they will be able to track progress for themselves.

“We have a short period of weeks before the damage of strict conditions, in particular school closures, become even more significant. We also currently have a virus infecting more people every week than are receiving the vaccine. Expanding the pace and scale of vaccination is thus essential, as is restoring public confidence that governments have a plan for winning this battle against the virus.”

 

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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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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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