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Health

New plan to keep Wales open and safe during “challenging” winter ahead

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The First Minister, Mark Drakeford, will today (Friday October 8) publish new plans to help keep Wales open and safe during the difficult autumn and winter months ahead.

The Welsh Government is publishing an updated Coronavirus Control Plan, which outlines the key actions, which could be put in place to control the spread of the virus.

Wales will remain at alert level zero for the next three weeks, following the latest review of the coronavirus regulations. This means all businesses are open and Wales has the lowest level of restrictions.

Speaking ahead of his press conference, First Minister Mark Drakeford said:

“We are facing a challenging winter ahead – coronavirus hasn’t gone away and flu is forecast to return this winter.

“Vaccination is the best defence we have against coronavirus – the more people who are fully vaccinated, the better our chances of controlling the spread of this awful virus.

“We will continue to focus our efforts on increasing take up of the Covid-19 vaccine across the age and priority groups and rolling out the booster vaccine too. We also encourage everyone who is eligible, to have their flu jab this year.

“There is also a range of other measures we can all take to help protect ourselves and our loved ones, such as washing our hands, reducing the number of people we meet and wearing a face covering in indoor public places.

“These measures have helped keep us safe throughout the pandemic and they will also help to protect us from other winter viruses, such as flu and other respiratory infections.”

The latest version of the Coronavirus Control Plan sets out two planning scenarios for the pandemic over the winter – in the first, called Covid Stable, Wales remains at alert level zero through the autumn and winter, with all businesses able to open.

This is thought to be the most likely scenario for the future, as we become used to living with coronavirus and we gradually move out of the pandemic to a position where the virus becomes a seasonal illness.

Under this scenario, if case rates fall, measures could be relaxed further in response, and if they rise, some existing measures could be strengthened to protect people’s health.

The second planning scenario, called Covid Urgent, is designed to deal with any sudden changes to the situation, caused by the emergence of a new, fast-spreading variant or if vaccine immunity levels fall, causing a rise in pandemic pressures, which risk overwhelming the NHS.

In such a scenario, the alert level system and restrictions would be used proportionately, but as a last-resort means, to protect people’s health, control the spread of infections and to protect the NHS.

Help keep Wales safe:

• Get your Covid-19 vaccines, including your booster when invited

• Get tested and self-isolate if you have symptoms

• Outdoors is safer than indoors

• Keep your distance when you can

• Wash your hands regularly

• Wear a face covering in indoor public places

• Keep indoor places well-ventilated

• Work from home whenever possible

• Use a Covid Pass in nightclubs and large events.

Commenting on the First Minister’s announcement Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Minister Russell George MS said:

“Like the First Minister acknowledged, vaccinations have proven to be the key that unlocked society and the economy after severely weakening the link between infection and hospitalisation. To those who have yet to be vaccinated, we urge them to do so and those eligible to get a booster jab.

“However, while we remain at Level 0, new restrictions are coming in as the coercive, ineffective, and anti-business Covid passports will limit our freedoms, fail to limit the spread of coronavirus according to the Welsh Government’s own scientists, and add additional burdens on already stretched businesses.

“There has been a poor communication campaign from the Welsh Government on their introduction, little justification of their effectiveness, a failure to address confusion and fix bugs, and no explanation on how they will police the alternative Covid test system so open to abuse.

“We have passed the peak of infections without further restrictions and passports will do little to stem the problems that has led to the worst-ever A&E waiting times, longest ever NHS treatment backlog, and second slowest ambulance response times built up under Labour mismanagement.

“So instead of further restrictions, we need Labour ministers to bring forward a proper winter pressures plan that introduces the Covid treatment hubs for which Welsh Conservatives have long called for and reverse their damaging decision to bring in Covid passports.”

Health

Give someone “the best gift” this Christmas by giving blood in West Wales

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A MOTHER who needed in-the-womb blood transfusions during her pregnancy and a man who depends on regular, lifesaving blood donations are encouraging communities across Wales to give “the best gift” this Christmas by donating blood.

The Welsh Blood Service is preparing to face Winter pressures on its services and is hoping their new Christmas campaign, “the best gift” will raise awareness about the importance of donating blood and the lifesaving difference it makes.

Last December over 900 donations of blood and blood products were needed across Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire to provide care to patients at Prince Philip, Withybush, Bronglais and Glangwili hospital. 

These donations play a vital role by supporting a range of treatments from helping recovering accident victims and patients with blood cancers to supporting mothers and new-born babies during childbirth.

Blood donations were needed during both pregnancies for mother of two, Shelley Parry. After her own life was saved during her first pregnancy, Shelley received several more blood transfusions directly into her womb to keep her youngest daughter alive.

Shelley explains: “Receiving blood is truly the best gift we have ever received. We’re forever indebted as a family to those who have taken the time to donate. Without the generosity of blood donors, quite simply, we wouldn’t be parents. Thanks to their selfless act, we can look forward to Christmas together as a family.

“It only takes one hour of your time to donate, if you can, please consider donating.”

Giggs and his daughter

Also supporting the campaign is blood recipient Giggs Kanias. Since birth, Giggs has received over 1,000 blood transfusions as part of his treatment for beta thalassaemia major, a severe blood disorder. Thanks to blood donors, Giggs is looking forward to celebrating Christmas with his family.

Giggs said: “I am so thankful to the incredible people who give blood. When I’m in hospital, I stare at the bags of blood being transfused into me and always wonder, who is the person that has helped me?

“I know the difference these people have made to my life and I’m so grateful to each and every one of them. Without their generosity, I wouldn’t be here today, I wouldn’t be a dad, or have had the opportunity to see my daughter grow up. Receiving blood is truly the best gift anyone could ever receive.”

Alan Prosser, Director of the Welsh Blood Service, said: “For patients like Giggs, receiving blood will be the best gift they receive this Christmas. It truly is the best gift you can give.

“Blood products have a short shelf life and is needed by hospitals 365 days a year, including Christmas day, to help support patients in need, which is why we can’t stop collecting.”

The Welsh Blood Service provides lifesaving blood products to 20 hospitals across Wales and four Wales Air Ambulance aircraft for use in emergencies.

Alan continues: “It is critical the service prepares. We need to build up blood stocks ahead of a potentially challenging winter, where seasonal illnesses and Covid-19 may exacerbate the usual winter pressures faced by the NHS.

“We are reaching out to communities across Wales to ask them to make a lifesaving blood donation and give “the best gift” this festive season.”

Do something amazing this Christmas. Give someone the best gift. Give blood. If you are aged 17 or over, book to give blood at: www.wbs.wales/Xmas21 or call 0800 252 266 today.

Appointments are available in Pembrokeshire on 7 December and January 6 and 20 in Tenby, 16 December and 27 January in Crymych, 20 December and 17 January in Haverfordwest, 10 January in Letterston Village Hall and 21 January in Milford Haven. 

Appointments are available in Carmarthenshire on 10 December in Pontyberum, 29 December and 13 January in Carmarthen, 28 January in Kidwelly Community Hall, 23 and 24 December and 4, 12 and 25 January in Parc Y Scarlets and 31 January in Llandeilo.

Appointments are available in Ceredigion on 14 December in Newcastle Emlyn, 14 January in Aberaeron and 18 January in Lampeter.

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Health

Hospital visiting restrictions relaxed in Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokehire

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FAMILY and friends can now attend hospitals in Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire to visit patients on a limited basis with prior agreement with hospital staff in line with Welsh Government guidance.

While the prevalence of COVID-19 has reduced within our hospitals and in the community, the virus has not gone away. Like some other areas across Wales and the UK we are continuing to deal with cases of COVID-19 and other respiratory infections in our hospitals. As a result, visiting arrangements to all hospitals in Hywel Dda UHB are being reviewed regularly and remain subject to change at short notice.

With effect from Monday 29 November, all visits must be pre-arranged with the ward sister or charge nurse to enable us to maintain social distancing in our wards and across our sites. This means that a pre-booked visit for one person daily can be supported, provided your visit has a clear purpose and is in the best interest of the patient, in line with the following guidance:

‘Visiting with a purpose’:

  • End of life – last days of life
  • Carer – you are the carer or the nominated representative
  • Parent/Guardian – children and young people can be supported in an inpatient environment by the identified parent/guardian
  • Learning disabilities (LD) – a patient with learning disabilities may need you as their carer/next of kin to share information about their individual needs and virtual visiting may not be appropriate
  • Dementia – to support a person with Dementia as part of the ongoing support/plan of care
  • Other – for example where it is felt a visit from you may help the patient with rehabilitation, understanding of care/condition, help with dietary concerns. The ward sister may agree visiting outside of this guidance in certain circumstances.

The current visiting arrangements within our maternity services remain unchanged at this time.

Please note that visitors who do not meet the criteria will be asked to use a virtual visiting option instead which is available within the hospital, such as using a tablet or mobile phone. Family Liaison Officers will be available on wards to support access to virtual visiting.

All visitors must carry out a lateral flow device (LFD) test at home and have a negative result from that test prior to travelling to the hospital. Lateral flow self-test kits can be obtained by:

It is recommended that test results – negative or positive – are recorded on the UK Government portal (www.gov.uk/report-covid19-result)

When visiting our hospitals please remember to wear a face covering, this will be replaced by a surgical face mask at reception or ward entrance. Please remember to maintain social distancing and to clean your hands on entering the building and as often as possible using soap and water or hand sanitiser.

Mandy Rayani, Executive Director of Nursing, Quality and Patient Experience, said: “On behalf of the health board I want to express our deepest gratitude to our patients, their families and our communities for their continued understanding and adherence to the very strict hospital visiting rules that we have had to impose throughout this pandemic. 

“We appreciate that it is a difficult time for everyone. We will continue to support the wellbeing of our patients/service users, their families and loved ones in the best way we can, while keeping everyone as safe as possible.

“Our patient support team and family liaison officers can help to deliver essential items to patients from their family and facilitate communication through digital options/telephone; if you need their assistance please call them on and 0300 0200 159 and they will do their best to help you.”

Please do not visit any of our hospital sites if you:

  1. are unwell, have flu like symptoms, currently have or had diarrhoea and vomiting in past 48 hours, have been in contact with anyone with the above symptoms in the last 48 hours have an existing medical condition or are on medication that puts you at risk of infection. Infection control advice – Hywel Dda University Health Board (nhs.wales)
  2. have been asked to isolate by the contact tracing team or if you have any of the three main symptoms of COVID-19 – a new continuous cough, temperature or loss or change of taste or smell. If you experience any of these symptoms please book a COVID-19 PCR test via the UK portal or by ringing 119. You should also book a test if you have mild cold or flu-like symptoms, including runny or blocked nose, sore throat, muscle ache or pain, excessive tiredness; persistent headache, persistent sneezing and/or hoarseness, shortness of breath or wheezing. When booking your PCR test, you will also be asked about your symptoms: if you have mild cold or flu-like symptoms, rather than the classic three symptoms, choose ‘None of these symptoms’ and then choose one of the following options to enable you to complete the booking:
  • My local council or health protection team has asked me to get a test, even though I do not have symptoms or
  • A GP or other healthcare professional has asked me to get a test.
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Health

New Covid-19 variant classed ‘of concern’ and named Omicron

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THE UK GOVERNMENT has temporarily halted flights from six southern African countries: South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Eswatini and Lesotho

The European Centre for Disease Control (CDC) says that it has classified the new Omnicron coronavirus variant as being “of concern”.

Officials say that the level of risk associated with the variant is “very high” and that it is extremely likely that the variant will spread across the EU.

Omicron is a word you will be hearing a lot about in the weeks and months to come, most analysts are saying.
The agency added that it feared the profile of the variant may mean that the effectiveness of vaccines could be reduced and that natural immunity may be decreased.

On Friday, Eluned Morgan MS, Minister for Health and Social Services said that the Welsh government in Cardiff was taking immediate action to move the eight south African countries onto the red list for travel as the variant may be capable of evading the protection provided by vaccines.

The Minister said: “The variant has been linked to Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

These countries have moved onto the red list from 12pm today. Two additional countries, Mozambique and Malawi, will also move onto the list from 8pm (20:00) today.
“This means travellers from these destinations will not be permitted to enter Wales but must enter through a port of entry in England or Scotland and go into a managed quarantine facility for 10 days. They must also take post-arrival PCR tests on day 2 and day 8.

South Africa’s Health Minister Joe Phaahla told reporters that the flight bans were “unjustified”.

“The reaction of some of the countries, in terms of imposing travel bans, and such measures, are completely against the norms and standards as guided by the World Health Organization,” he said.

CONCERNED: WHO (PIC FILE)

Stock markets across the world also fell sharply on Friday, reflecting the fears of investors over the potential economic impact.

UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid says there is “huge international concern” over the variant.

MULTIPLE CONCERNING MUTATIONS

Professor Anne von Gottberg of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) in Johannesburg said that most strains of the virus have about five to 10 spike mutations, but the Omicron has around 25 to 32.
“So it really was immediately noticeable that something unusual had happened,” she said.
“There are a lot of mutations that are new and that we haven’t seen before,” she said.

She said it was as yet unclear what can be determined from the multiple mutations.
But she said it was precisely because they couldn’t fully understand its characteristics that merited further study and a cautious approach to the new strain.

Prof John Edmunds, a member of the UK’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) which advises the government, says the new variant, B.1.1.529, is a “huge worry” and could escape current Covid vaccines.
“The molecular data is extremely worrying – it would point to that perhaps this thing might be able to evade the immune response” he said on a BBC radio programme.

Asked if the new variant could be resistant to current vaccines, Edmunds – an infectious diseases expert at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine – confirms this is scientists’ “great fear” but it is not yet known to what extent the variant might be able to do so.

“Our fears are it would do so to a large extent” The UK is “still fighting a Delta wave” and does not want to be “fighting both at the same time” as it could create a “very, very, very difficult situation”.

A technician uses a single channel pipette dropper, Johannesburg, South Africa (Pic PA)
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