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Coronavirus

Catastrophe looms if we don’t follow Covid-19 rules, health chief warns

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A health expert has warned coronavirus levels in the Swansea Bay area could soon reach catastrophic levels unless people follow the rules on social distancing during the Christmas season.

Swansea Bay University Health Board Director of Public Health Dr Keith Reid warned that if people don’t do the right thing and keep their distance from others as much as possible, the virus will have a stranglehold and risk bringing health and social care services to their knees.

Neath Port Talbot has record levels of Covid-19 infection rates which are the highest in Wales and numbers are rising rapidly and Swansea is not far behind. In Neath Port Talbot today’s reported infection rate is 622 cases per 100,000 population per week and in Swansea the figure is 446 cases per 100,000 population per week. There were 800 new cases reported in the last two days alone in the Swansea Bay region.

By comparison back in September just before the local lockdown the figures were 56 cases per 100,000 for Swansea and 38 cases per 100,000 for Neath-Port Talbot.

Dr Reid said: “We are at a critical stage. Infection rates are at record levels and we all need to play our part to bring this situation under control and quickly.

“If infections continue to rise at the current rate then without another lockdown before Christmas the local system will be overwhelmed.”

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“I don’t want to be standing here within the next fortnight telling people the spread of the virus is out of control, that too many people are dying needlessly and health and social care workers can’t cope for much longer.

“It is a big thing to ask at this time of year when, after the kind of year we’ve had, we all want to be together with our friends and family. But my appeal is – on behalf of doctors, nurses and social care workers who have been at full stretch for so long – please stop and think.

“Please think about what you need to do rather than what you want to do. The vaccine is coming but for most of us it’s not here yet. We need to do the right thing for Christmas which is to follow the social distancing rules and stay safe.

“We have a chance to stave off a potential catastrophe. But we all have a role to play.”

Between November 25th and December 1st, 2020, there were 1,674 new cases of Covid-19 recorded in Swansea Bay – 711 in Neath Port Talbot and 960 in Swansea.  

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Dr Reid said it was clear that people mixing with others at home, in the street, at work with friends and strangers alike is the driving force behind the rise in numbers. For the first 48 hours or so before symptoms emerge people don’t even know they are infected let alone potentially passing it on to people they love.

He said: “Unless this community transmission drops significantly, we will be in a catastrophic situation by January because of big rises in cases of Covid and hospital admissions.

Already the health board alongside Swansea and Neath Port Talbot councils are taking action to try to prevent the spread and to try to manage the impact of soaring post-Christmas Covid-19 infections.

Directors of social care at the councils are making difficult decisions. David Howes, Director of Social Services in Swansea, said: “The rising infection levels within the community are extremely worrying, and the demand for hospital and community services is now becoming greater than the resources we have available to us.

“Our teams have done an incredible job for so many months. But we are dealing with a depleted, stretched and exhausted workforce, not just within our hospitals, but in community settings too. We are looking to reduce services in some areas, to make changes that no-one wants to make.”

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Andrew Jarret, Director of Social Services in Neath Port Talbot, said: “People currently receiving support in their own homes, or in a care home will be affected by the changes we will need to make as resources will be diverted to care for those most in need.

“The difficult reality is that if we continue to see the number of Covid-19 cases continue to rise as rapidly as they are now going into the New Year, services will struggle to respond.  

Cllr Rob Jones, the Leader of Neath Port Talbot Council, said: “The majority of people are being sensible and stick to the rules by maintaining social distance, sanitising their hands and wearing masks where appropriate.

“But it only takes a minority to ignore the guidelines and lead to a spread in coronavirus. We all have to pull together and resist the temptation for social mixing as doing so could put our nurses and doctors at risk and lead to a situation where hospitals and health services are overwhelmed.”

Rob Stewart, Leader of Swansea Council, said: “We are in a critical time. Over the last nine months people, businesses, friends and strangers have come together to support each other in incredible ways.

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This year will go down as the year of Covid-19. But 2020 will also be the year where we all saw community spirit and kindness and care making the difference.

“To save lives and protect the NHS we need, once again, to do the right thing. Have a safe, socially-distanced festive season.”


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Coronavirus

Health chief urges people to follow Welsh Gov COVID guidance – and supports action against businesses that don’t

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woman wearing face mask

Director of Public Health for Swansea Bay University Health Board, Dr Keith Reid has issued a statement urging people to follow the Welsh Government’s guidance on staying safe through the pandemic – and supports action against businesses that refuse to do so.

The warning comes as news of the new Omicron COVID variant starting to spread in the UK, coronavirus infection rates continuing to be high in Swansea, Neath and Port Talbot, and enforcement action taken by Swansea Council and the Welsh Government against independent cinema Cinema& Co who have refused to follow COVID safety measures.

Dr Keith Reid

Dr Reid said: “We are now seeing the emergence of the new Omicron variant with the accompanying uncertainty.  This makes it more important than ever for us all to act in a responsible way that protects our local communities and the vulnerable people within them, and the NHS.

“Although we all want the pandemic to end, Covid is undeniably still with us. Many families across Swansea and Neath Port Talbot have already experienced – or are currently living through – the anguish of loved ones being seriously ill or having died with this virus.  Others, of all ages, are suffering long-lasting impact on their own health following Covid infection.

“In the last two weeks alone in Swansea Bay 10 people have died in our hospitals with Covid. Today, we have 35 Covid-positive patients in our hospital beds and five are seriously ill in intensive care.

“Since the pandemic began, our staff have witnessed almost 1,000 patient deaths with Covid, and that figure does not include people who died outside of our hospitals. That is not only a tragedy for the families involved, but it has exacted a heavy physical and mental toll on our NHS staff, who are exhausted and yet still carrying on as best they can.”

Dr Reid added: “For businesses the rules are quite clear and there is a statutory duty of care towards customers and clients who might use business premises and also for staff.

“I support enforcement action taken against any business that deliberately flouts the current regulations.

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“These regulations are not made lightly. They are put in place to protect the public and workers. They also allow business to continue to operate, but as safely as possible.

“The regulations are based on Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) advice that a number of different ‘low cost’ interventions all have a part to play in reducing risk, and that together these actions mitigate against the risk of tougher measures needing to be reintroduced later.

“Included in the regulations is the need, for example, for premises to be properly risk-assessed so important safety issues like ventilation, social distancing, etc, can be considered and managed. Covid passes or negative lateral flow tests have another part to play in reducing the risk of further infections, particularly in premises regarded as higher risk. The passes are not the full answer, but they have a part to play.

Support and guidance on how businesses can implement reasonable control measures is available from the local authority, and is outlined in detail by the Welsh Government.

Meanwhile, I continue to urge everyone to carry on taking sensible everyday actions to protect their own health, and those of others:

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  • Make sure you have had your Covid vaccinations.
  • Self-isolate and get tested if you have any Covid symptoms, or symptoms which are unusual for you.
  • Wear a face-covering where you need to.
  • Open windows and doors to let the fresh air in when you meet up with others.
  • Avoid stuffy, crowded places – get together outdoors if you can.
  • Wash your hands frequently.”
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Coronavirus

Council urges city cinema to address COVID safety concerns

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Swansea Council has condemned the actions of the owners of a city cinema which has refused to remain shut to address serious covid health concerns.

Cinema & Co was recently issued with a closure notice after enforcement officers in the Council, during a visit, noted that no measures had been put in place by the owners to reduce the risks of spreading coronavirus to either staff or customers.

The Welsh Government has since issued a direction to the owners, ordering them to close and action was taken by council officers, supported by local police, to close the premises on Friday evening (26 November).

A council spokesperson said: “It’s disappointing to see the owners still acting in an irresponsible way and continue to trade, against the direction issued by the Welsh Government.

“Our recent visits determined there were no measures in place to protect the public and staff against coronavirus. We understand events are still planned at the venue and we would urge those who intend going along to act wisely and consider the risks they present in potentially spreading the virus to friends and family.

“We have supported businesses throughout the pandemic to ensure they are doing all they can to lower the risk of spreading the virus and adhere to current welsh government regulations. The majority have been very supportive and are doing their bit to trade safely and not risk putting additional pressures on our NHS.

“Given we have seen the emergence of the worrying omicron variant, we all need to continue to act with caution and follow the rules and regulations.  The measures are in place to keep us all safe, and help us avoid a return to a lockdown.”

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Cinema & Co remains open, with a sold-out showing of “The Grinch who Stole Christmas” taking place on Sunday (28 November). Further film showings are due to take place on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday this week.

A rescheduled court date is due to take place at Swansea Magistrates tomorrow (30 November), after the district judge hearing the case asked for more information about the legislation being used by the council to bring forward their closure order.

(Lead image: Cinema & Co)

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Coronavirus

Covid measure-avoiding cinema threatens to disobey latest closure notice – branding First Minister a ‘grinch’

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The Welsh Government issued Swansea independent cinema and food outlet Cinema & Co with an order to close on public health grounds on Friday.

Swansea Council originally issued a closure notice for the business on Thursday 18 November saying the business had not completed a COVID risk assessment, staff had no training on how to prevent transmission of COVID-19 and there was no implementation of the COVID pass scheme.

It was also noted that there was no signage advising customers to wear face coverings and there was inadequate cleaning products to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Business owner, Anna Redfern described the Welsh Government COVID pass law as “nonsensical” and “unnecessary”.  She also refused to comply with the council’s closure notice saying

The Council took Redfern to court to enforce the closure. Ms Redfern failed to attend court, while the judge asked for an adjournment to proceedings to query the act of law that the council was using to bring the closure notice.

Prior to the new court date, the Welsh Government has decided to act itself using enforcement parts of the Coronavirus legislation for the first time.

Under the Coronavirus Act 2020, the Welsh Minsters have powers to take action against specific premises where they consider the premises to present a risk to public health.

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In a statement, the Welsh Government said: “To support Swansea Council and to protect public health, Welsh Ministers have issued a direction under the Act for the closure of Cinema & Co in Swansea.

“Recently the Local Authority identified a series of breaches of the Coronavirus Regulations at the premises.

“The premises was previously served with a notice requiring it to close due to the risk to public health.

“As the owner has chosen not to comply with this legal requirement, Welsh Ministers have taken further enforcement action.

“The Welsh Government will not be commenting further on ongoing legal proceedings.”

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Council officers attended the cinema on Friday evening to close the Castle Street business once again, with the order prohibiting anyone from entering the building unless given approval from the court, the council or the Welsh Government.

There was a strong police presence to enforce the closure, although media reports indicate a small number of protestors remained inside the building, with some of those reportedly wearing Voice of Wales branded clothing.

The controversial organisation has been supportive of Ms Redfern’s anti-COVID pass stance, but while describing itself as a media organisation it has been dogged by allegations of being a far right, racist group – something that it strongly denies.

Ms Redfern herself also denies any link to racism or extremism, saying that her “life had become totally surreal” and that she was “being acted on by so many forces out of [her] control. Some very dark.”

In a statement on social media she said: “I absolutely reject any claims that I am in any way connected to far-right groups, far-left groups or any form of racism”

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Following the most recent closure notice, signed by Welsh Government First Minister Mark Drakeford himself, Cinema & Co described the First Minister as a “grinch” and vowed to disobey the order, organising a showing of the film The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” at the cinema on Sunday 28 November at 4pm.

The sold-out event was promoted on Cinema and Co’s social media showing the face of Mark Drakeford photoshopped into the grinch, accompanied by further anti-COVID pass slogans.

It is unclear as to what, if any further action the Police, Council or Welsh Government will take should the cinema breach the latest closure notice and reopen as promised.

A crowd-funder set up by former Brexit Party & Abolish the Welsh Assembly candidate Richard Taylor, has raised over £60,000 so far.

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