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Coronavirus

Sunlight could turn COVID waste into clean fuel – funding for new Swansea-led project

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(Image: Swansea University)

Sunlight could be used to convert hazardous medical waste into clean hydrogen fuel, using a new technique being developed by a joint Wales/India team led by Swansea University researchers. The project has just been awarded £47,000 of funding by the Welsh Government.

The NHS already spends £700 million a year disposing of medical waste.  The COVID pandemic is creating vast amounts of additional waste, such as masks and other protective equipment.  

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The Swansea-led team are developing a novel process called photoreforming.  This uses sunlight to simultaneously kill viruses and convert non-recyclable waste into clean hydrogen fuel.   The process works by using nanostructured semiconductors to drive the degradation of waste and pathogens with sunlight.   

Currently, medical waste is disposed of by incineration.  In contrast, photoreforming does not generate greenhouse gases and works at ambient temperature.   As well as producing hydrogen fuel, the process can also generate organic feedstocks for the chemical industry. 

This new research builds on the team’s previous work on generating hydrogen from waste plastics.  

Waste plastic can be turned into hydrogen (Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com)
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The team includes epidemiology experts from India’s King Institute of Preventive Medicine & Research and Thiruvalluvar University.  They are helping examine the photocatalysts’ antiviral activity against different pathogens, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.  The nanomaterials group at Indian Institute of Technology Mandi are also partners in the project.  

The researchers are now actively looking for industry partners to commercialise their technology. 

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Dr Moritz Kuehnel, project lead and senior lecturer in Chemistry at Swansea University, says:  

“Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have witnessed a global surge in single-use medical waste and PPE polluting the environment such as disposable face masks littering beaches. The NHS already spends more than £700m every year on waste disposal, even before COVID waste. Applying our technology to reprocess just 1% of this waste would save millions and mitigate pollution at the same time.” 

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Dr Sudhaghar Pitchaimuthu, co-investigator and Sêr Cymru-II Rising Star Fellow at Swansea University’s College of Engineering, adds  

“The simplicity and low cost of photoreforming make it easier to implement in countries that do not have an established recycling system. By turning this hazardous waste into a resource, we aim to provide a commercial incentive to collect waste from the environment and prevent littering in the first place.” 

Kirsty Williams, Welsh Government Education Minister, said: 

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“I’m pleased our Sêr Cymru scheme can support this programme at Swansea University, which will help in the fight against the coronavirus while also providing environmental and economic benefits.” 


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Coronavirus

Face coverings retained in health and social care settings

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First Minister Mark Drakeford has confirmed the legal requirement to wear a face covering in health and care settings will remain in place.

Speaking after the latest three-week review of the coronavirus regulations, the First Minister said the public health situation was improving following the recent spike in cases caused by the BA.2 sub-type of omicron.

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But Covid case rates remain high so maintaining the use of face coverings in health and care settings will help to protect to some of the most vulnerable people in society, staff and visitors.

The First Minister also urged everyone to continue to take measures to reduce the spread of coronavirus by following a set of simple steps to protect one another and keep Wales safe.

These include self-isolating if ill or testing positive for Covid-19; wearing a face covering in crowded indoor places, meeting outdoors wherever possible; keeping indoor areas well ventilated and washing hands regularly.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “The pandemic isn’t over but we are seeing encouraging signs the recent high levels of infections across Wales are falling.

“There are steps we can all take to protect ourselves while coronavirus is still circulating and reduce the spread of the virus even further. This is particularly true in places where some of the most vulnerable people in society are being treated and live, which is why we will retain the legal requirement to wear face coverings in health and social care settings.

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“More generally, ensuring you are up-to-date with your Covid vaccinations and spring booster – if you are eligible – is really important. If you have Covid symptoms or test positive, please stay at home and help break the chain of transmission.

“Together, we can carry on keeping each other safe and keeping Wales safe.”

The next three-weekly review of coronavirus regulations will be carried out by 26 May.

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Coronavirus

Schools’ Covid guidance aligned to businesses and other workplaces

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The Minister for Education and Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles, has announced that Covid-19 measures for schools in Wales will be brought into line with guidance for businesses and other organisations.

The Welsh Government has written to schools in Wales this morning to inform them of the changes.

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Since September last year, schools have applied measures to stop the spread of Coronavirus according to local circumstances, based on the Local Covid-19 infection control decision framework for schools. Schools will no longer be advised to use the framework.

The change is in line with the Welsh Government’s long-term Covid-19 transition from pandemic to endemic. The risk from coronavirus is now considered in the same context as other communicable diseases, such as flu.

The First Minister has announced that the remaining coronavirus restrictions will be removed from 9 May, if the public health situation remained stable. The changes to the guidance for schools will also come into effect from 9 May.

Schools and other education settings will continue to be advised to work with local authorities and public health advisors to ensure that measures remain appropriate and proportionate and reflect local risks and circumstances.

A checklist will be provided to support schools and settings in considering which control measures remain proportionate. Special schools will continue to follow the advice for children and young people with higher clinical risk and clinically extremely vulnerable adults.

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Speaking at the Welsh Government’s weekly press briefing, Jeremy Miles said: “In line with the wider public health guidance published at the last three-week review, we have today written to headteachers to signpost the impending changes to our advice for schools, which reflect the move from pandemic to endemic. This will ensure school guidance is more closely aligned with the rest of society.

“We all know that Covid-19 has not gone way. It remains vitally important we reduce the spread of the virus where we can – this includes, for example, following self-isolation guidance, and for education settings to continue to undertake robust risk assessments.”

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Coronavirus

Health board extends shuttle bus between Llanelli and COVID vaccination centre

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Hywel Dda University Health Board (HDUHB) has extended the free shuttle bus service between Llanelli town centre and the mass vaccination centre in Dafen to help people access their COVID-19 vaccination as easily as possible.

The shuttle bus, provided by Dolen Teifi, will continue to run between 10.30am to 4.40pm, seven days a week – with no service at 12.00pm from town or at 12.15pm from the mass vaccination centre to allow the drivers a lunch break.

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People can board the shuttle bus on the hour and at half-past the hour at Church Street, outside Llanelli Magistrates Court.

The shuttle bus will leave the mass vaccination centre quarter past and quarter to the hour, returning to the town centre and dropping passengers off opposite Llanelli library.

Bethan Lewis, Interim Assistant Director of Public Health for Hywel Dda UHB, said: “We need as many people as possible attending their COVID-19 vaccine appointments, or dropping in if eligible.

“This shuttle bus service is one of many additional resources and services being put in place across the Hywel Dda region to help support more people to receive their COVID-19 vaccination. I am pleased the shuttle bus service has been extended to help people reliant on public transport to access their COVID-19 vaccine.”

On 21 February 2022, the JCVI published a statement, recommending an additional spring booster.

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Strict COVID-19 safety measures are in place to ensure the safety of drivers and passengers on this service, including wearing face coverings unless medically exempt.

A maximum of 14 passengers are allowed per journey with a screen in place between driver and passengers.

The health board say that passengers should only use this service if they are fit and well on the day.

They add that before travelling without an appointment to Dafen mass vaccination centre, people should check the health board’s website for up-to-date information such as vaccine eligibility and drop-in opening times.

(Lead image: Hywel Dda NHS)

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