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At least three more weeks of lockdown, First Minister confirms

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FIRST MINISTER Mark Drakeford said he hopes the country has entered the last three weeks of the “stay-at-home” requirement.

Mr Drakeford said any lockdown change depends on case rates falling and it was too soon to say if people will be able to travel beyond their local area.

He also said he hoped primary school children aged eight and over may be able to return to school from 15 March if Covid cases continued to fall. From Saturday (Feb 20) the number of people who can exercise together outdoors will be increased from two to four, although they must be from a maximum of two households.

Exercise must still start and finish at home. From Monday (Mar 1), licensed wedding venues will be able to reopen, in line with current rules for register offices.

Also more elite sport athletes will be able to return to training, and more visits to care homes will be considered Mr Drakeford said: “If in three weeks’ time the numbers are still falling, the positivity rate is falling, the R number’s below one, hospital pressures continue to reduce, then I hope we’ll be able to move beyond ‘stay at home’.”

He said it was “too uncertain” to say how far restrictions on movement might be eased, but he suggested a “stay local” arrangement, similar to local lockdowns which were imposed in the autumn, was a possibility.

While Wales’ case rate is at its lowest since September, the government said tight restrictions were still needed to ensure a safe return to school. The Conservatives called for a “road map to recovery” and for “rough timescales” for reopening some of the hardest-hit sectors.

Talks are taking place about reopening tourism in time for Easter, with bed and breakfasts and hotels with room service likely to be prioritised.

Talks will also begin with non-essential shops about the prospects of reopening.

Mr Drakeford warned there would not be a “wholesale” reopening of shops. Responding to the latest review of Coronavirus regulations by the Welsh Government, Darren Hughes, director of the Welsh NHS Confederation said: “It is clear that we need to lift restrictions slowly and carefully.

While we all want to see an end to restrictions, the NHS in Wales is still coming under high levels of pressure. We need the capacity to be able to look after you and your families and get the Welsh population vaccinated as quickly as we can.

“The NHS in Wales recognises how important it is to get children and students back to school, but this needs to be done cautiously to ensure we don’t see an impact on infection rates.

“We continue to see positive signs that Coronavirus rates are falling in Wales, and we are starting to see a reduction in the number of patients in hospital with Covid. “As more of the most vulnerable groups receive their vaccinations, we can start to look towards a brighter future.

“We’re grateful to our frontline staff, our partners in the public sector and the Welsh public, who have all worked so hard to drive down the rate of infection. We know the restrictions are hard for people and we continue to encourage anyone to come forward for help if you need it, whether that be for your physical or mental health.”

Regarding schools, children aged between three and seven – those in the foundation phase – are returning to school from Monday.

The next review will look at all primary pupils, and some older students preparing for exams, returning to schools and colleges from 15 March. That includes years 11 and 13, and students doing similar qualifications in college, returning in a safe and ‘flexible’ way.

Reacting to news that the Welsh government will consider non-essential retail in a review on 11 March, James Barnes, Chairman of the HTA, said: “With the busiest season for horticultural businesses about to start, the First Minister’s statement today leaves us with very little room for manoeuvre  and anxious to see garden centres opened on 11 March.

“Our members – growers and retailers alike – need certainty around opening dates and the key trading occasion of Mother’s Day will be even more important after such a difficult period which will now include closure on St David’s Day.

“We recognise the part we have to play in seeing this pandemic brought under control and have revisited our Safer Trading Guidance so that garden centres, which naturally lend themselves to Covid-secure trading with open and airy spaces, continue to provide one of the safest retail environments.

“Plants and gardening contribute to health and wellbeing and provide activities which have helped people safeguard their wellbeing and kept them occupied at home during lockdown. We call on the Welsh government to recognise the valuable contribution horticulture has to make as the country begins the process of recovering from the pandemic, by enabling garden centres to trade again as soon as possible.”

Responding to the announcement by the Welsh Government, Dr David Bailey, BMA Cymru Wales council chair said: “We welcome the Welsh Government’s continued cautious approach to easing restrictions. Whilst there are hugely encouraging signs that we’re successfully tackling the virus with lower case rates and with the progress made on the vaccine roll out, we must continue to move slowly and be vigilant particularly with the threat of new variants.

“If we can contain the spread of new variants now there is less opportunity for them to create a new wave of cases which may also make the current vaccine less effective.

“Ultimately, we want to see more people vaccinated to protect our most vulnerable and reduce the pressure on the NHS before we can move forward to ensure there is capacity to treat severe COVID-19 infections, as well as successfully and safely providing non-COVID care to all those who need it.

“Alongside this we need to ensure rapid roll-out of the second dose of the vaccine for all healthcare workers to ensure maximum protection for staff and patients”

 

COUNCIL LEADER’S UPDATE

Pembrokeshire County Council Leader, Councillor David Simpson, has provided a further coronavirus update

He said: ‘Like me I’m sure you are finding time is marching on at such a rate that it is almost hard to believe we are now entering the last week of February.

‘I have really noticed that the days are drawing out which is always a sign that spring is on its way. Spring time brings us all hope that better days are ahead, it has been a very long year with so many restrictions in our daily lives.

‘However, we have all worked hard together and we need to continue in the same direction.

Council Leader, David Simpson:

‘It is pleasing to see so many people now receiving the vaccine and the rate of vaccination in Pembrokeshire continues to highlight the huge effort put in by everyone.

‘As of Wednesday 33,828 vaccinations have been carried out in Pembrokeshire. That is 26.9% of the population. We are getting there steadily.

‘Today (Friday) we have had an update from the First Minister in relation to the restrictions and the current situation in relation to the pandemic.

‘As set out by the First Minister it is clear that although we are seeing an improvement there is still a long way to go and we all need to continue to keep safe.

‘As an authority we will now be reviewing the latest Welsh Government guidance and I will update you next week on our position.

‘Next week we will also see our schools reopening to Foundation Phase learners. Our education team will be reviewing and keeping a close eye on how the phased re-opening goes and reviewing any further guidance from the Welsh Government.

‘The best place to find details about what will be happening at your child/children’s school will be on their school website and social media.

‘With the vaccinations continuing and the first learners going back to school things are improving, but we still need to follow the guidance and keep driving infections down.

‘I want to wish you all a nice weekend, soon it will be time to start working on the gardens and enjoy seeing flowers and trees bloom – better days are ahead.

 

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Park Authority Committee tours successful carbon reduction projects

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MEMBERS of Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority’s Sustainable Development Fund (SDF) Committee made a tour of local projects recently that have benefitted from SDF funding.

Since 2000, over 200 projects have been supported by the Fund. Over the past year, the Fund has changed its focus to support community-led projects that mitigate the climate emergency by contributing to a reduction in carbon.

Coppicewood College, which promotes and supports sustainable woodland management, was one of the successful applicants visited by Committee Members. After entering into talks with the West and South Wales Wildlife Trust and securing a new home in Pengelli Forest on a 25-year lease, an application was made for SDF funding to build a workshop using sustainable building methods. Both the College and the Wildlife Trust will benefit from this new partnership, as the College now has a brand new home in a prestigious SSSI woodland and the Trust will be able to have a programme of woodland management tailored to the needs of local wildlife.

SDF Committee Members also paid a visit to Clynfyw Care Farm, where funding has been used to pay for equipment, set-up costs and training in a new vermicomposting (worm composting) project. This creates a sustainable and high quality compost, which can be used to improve soil conditions organically for local vegetable produce growers, while sequestering carbon during the process.

Bwlch-y-groes village hall also formed part of the itinerary for Members, who were shown where the SDF-funded photovoltaic panels and electric vehicle charging point, which are set to complement the new building, will be positioned.

The tour came to an end with a talk from the Cwm Arian Renewable Energy Project, which has received an SDF cash injection to help with the Pembrokeshire Energy Efficiency Programme (PEEP) – a project that aims to engage with communities across North Pembrokeshire in order to understand behaviours in energy reduction.

Jessica Morgan, Funding and Grants Officer for the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Trust, said: “It’s been hugely rewarding to see so many innovative climate solutions coming to fruition as a result of SDF grants.

“We are now inviting applications for the next round of funding. If you are part of a community-led group or organisation based in or around the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park and have a project that would help reduce carbon and/or respond to climate change, please consider applying.”

Projects can include:

·       Installing renewable energy generation facilities, such as solar panels, to a community building

·       Transport initiatives that promote reduced carbon emissions

·       The installation of community facilities that minimise waste, such as water fountains

·       Any other community-based carbon reduction initiatives.

The deadline for applications is 12 noon on Friday 10 September

Further information on how to apply and an application form can be found at www.pembrokeshirecoast.wales/sustainable-development-fund/.

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Firefighters respond to industrial unit fire at Rope Walk, Hakin, Milford Haven

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EMERGENCY SERVICES are responding to a fire at an industrial unit off the Rope Walk in Hakin, Milford Haven this morning (Tuesday, July 27).

The fire broke out just after 10am. Witnesses at the scene told our reporter that they beleived the fire was linked to welding work which going on a the time on the premises.

Three fire applicances are engaged with fighting the fire.

Another person close to the scene said: “Black smoke could be seen from quite a distance, and there were popping sounds and small bangs coming from inside the warehouse as the fire took hold.”

No injuries have been reported.

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Trial bathing water testing project makes a splash

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A TRIAL project is making waves in the way the quality of bathing water is recorded and how that information is presented to those thinking of taking a dip.

Launched during the baking hot weather and at the start of the school holidays, the project run by Pembrokeshire County Council aims to develop an information platform for local people, visitors and activity groups to detail the bathing quality away from Blue Flag beaches.

As an Authority, Pembrokeshire County Council is very proud to have the most Blue Flag beaches in the whole of the UK, and this is testament to the fantastic water quality that we have.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that all of the coast is blessed with these conditions and water quality can change on a regular basis

For the project, Pembrokeshire County Council’s Pollution Control Team will take up to six samples, across the period of the school summer holidays.

The team will then provide weekly information on bathing water results, framed against the EU Bathing Water Standards.

Pollution Control Lead Officer, Nathan Miles, said: “To achieve Blue Flag status, it is pretty well known that beaches must meet strict criteria on bathing water quality.

“But we understand that people like to swim right around our coast, not just at Blue Flag beaches, so we thought this trial could provide the bathing water quality information where there’s interest in open water swimming.

“The project is centred around water quality and water safety and linking up with local community councils and interested groups such as the Bluetits Chill Swimmers.

“We are looking for community partners or local councils to develop signage and noticeboards as well as use social media to provide information on water quality and safety in their area.”

Members of the Bluetits were on hand this week to launch the project as Council Pollution Technician Scott Findlay took a sample from Solva Harbour.

That sample will be analysed in the lab and the Bluetits informed of the water quality at the harbour.

Bluetits Chill Swimmers Director Sarah Mullis, said: “We as an organisation believe in giving swimmers the information and tools to increase their knowledge of their local waters in order for them to make choices and take responsibility for their own safety so that they can access all of the benefits that we know open water swimming brings. 

“Up until now this has been in the form of short films on rip currents, waves, tides etc. The data that has already come from this water testing scheme, and talking to Scott about what affects the readings has been fascinating, and we are learning new things about the water we swim in every day.

Pollution Technician: Scott Findlay takes a sample for testing from Solva Harbour (Pic PCC)

“We intend to share this knowledge with our community of 15,000 Bluetits, so this scheme won’t just help Solva Bluetits, but those worldwide to be aware of what may affect the quality of the waters that mean so much to us.”

Cllr Mark Carter, County Councillor for Solva added: “It is great to see this initiative between PCC and the community of Solva that gives local and visiting open water swimmers the information and confidence to make the most of the beautiful area that is Solva harbour.” 

Bruce Payne, Clerk of Solva Community Council said water is the driving force of nature and Solva’s bathing water is precious and must be protected.

He added: “The water testing scheme is very important to the community council. It helps safeguard the water quality for everyone.

“Water sports is also a vital component of village and harbour life. We care about our shared harbour environment and want everyone to be safe and to enjoy the clean seawater of Solva.”

For more information and to get involved in the trial project, contact Nathan Miles on 01437 764551.

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