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Coronavirus

First Minister sets out plans to hold ‘Covid secure’ 2021 Senedd elections

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Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

Plans to ensure the people of Wales can vote safely at the 2021 Senedd elections, and that they take place as planned on 6 May 2021, have been set out by the First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford today.

The 2021 Senedd elections are already set to be historic – they are the first elections to be subject to laws made in Wales, and for the first time, 16 and 17 year olds, as well as qualifying foreign citizens, will have the democratic right to vote.

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However, the Coronavirus pandemic has created significant challenges to maintaining the safety and integrity of the election.

The First Minister established the Elections Planning Group in June to consider the impact of Coronavirus and in particular, what legislative adjustments might need to be made as a result.

The group has agreed on a number of measures to increase flexibility and resilience of election operations, reflecting public health advice on how best to protect the safety and wellbeing of all involved.

These include:

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  • Measures to encourage vulnerable voters and others to consider applying for a postal vote and to apply early if possible;
  • To provide greater flexibility around the nomination of candidates, as well as postal and proxy voting;
  • Measures to ensure the safe operation of polling stations and count venues. The Welsh Government will do everything that it is appropriate to support Returning Officers to make the necessary arrangements;
  • Ensuring Coronavirus regulations do not inhibit voting.

In addition, the Welsh Government is making contingency plans in the event that the Coronavirus pandemic presents such a serious threat to public health that it is not safe to hold the election in May next year.

Preparations are underway for a draft Bill to enable the Llywydd, the Senedd’s Presiding Officer, to postpone the election for up to six months, if that becomes necessary. This would enable Ministers to introduce the required legislation before the Senedd in January, if the situation after Christmas indicates that this is likely to be needed as a last resort.

Wales First Minister, Rt Hon Mark Drakeford MS (Image: Welsh Government)

Addressing the Senedd, First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “Let me take this opportunity to once again state that this Government’s clear intention is that the next Senedd election should be held on 6 May 2021. We are also determined to do everything in our power to ensure people can vote when the election takes place.

“I believe we must pursue every option for enabling people to exercise their democratic right in the face of Coronavirus.

“Much communications activity is planned to encourage postal voting, and everything will be done to make polling stations covid secure.”

The First Minister added: “I would like to thank the members of the Elections Planning Group for their work to help us prepare for next year’s Senedd elections.

“This has been a remarkable year and a remarkable Fifth Senedd. Let us work together to ensure that the people of Wales, including those newly enfranchised, can exercise their democratic right safely.”

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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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