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Pilot of COVID-19 vaccination roll-out to Welsh care homes to begin

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A pilot for the roll-out of the COVID-19 Pfizer / BioNtech vaccine to Welsh care homes is to begin on Wednesday 16 December, just over a week after the first jab was administered in the UK, the Welsh Health Minister has announced.

A designated care home in Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board will be the first in Wales to receive the vaccine, with teams in additional Health Boards taking the vaccine to care homes later this week.

The initial roll-out of the vaccine to care home staff, health and social care workers and those aged 80 and over began on Tuesday 8th across the UK, based on advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). Wales and other UK administrations are guided by these recommendations.

There had been concerns about maintaining the stability of the Pfizer / BioNtech vaccine outside hospital vaccination centres as it usually needs to be stored at minus 70 degrees centigrade.

The Welsh Government has discussed at length with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the vaccine’s manufacturer how to repackage and transport the vaccine without compromising the standards of safety and efficacy patients rightly expect. This meant that until now it had not been efficient to take the vaccine to care home residents.

This will mean Health Boards can take the vaccine to settings with at least five residents, rather than using it only in static vaccination centres. It will take a number of days to train staff and ensure standard procedures are drawn up and validated.

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At first the vaccine will be issued to care homes in proximity to hospital pharmacies, but it is planned for the vaccine to be available in other settings in coming weeks, once learnings from the care home pilot has been captured.

The effects of the vaccine may not be seen nationally for many months and the advice on keeping Wales safe remains the same for everyone; keep contacts with other people to a minimum, keep a 2 metre distance from others, wash hands regularly, wear a face covering where required and avoid touching surfaces others have touched, wherever possible.

The Health Minister, Vaughan Gething, said: “Following Wales’ successful roll-out of the first COVID vaccine last week, we are starting the care home resident phase of the programme carefully; however we need to continue to make sure we can safely transport the vaccine to people who can’t come to clinics.

“If all goes well this week, we will roll out care home vaccination ahead of Christmas, bringing a new level of protection to some of our most vulnerable people.

“Our NHS staff have done a fantastic job to get this first vaccine out in a safe and timely manner. I’m extremely grateful for their hard work on this and across the course of the pandemic.”

Dr Gill Richardson, Chair of Wales’ COVID-19 Vaccine Programme, said: “The delivery of a COVID-19 vaccine to care home staff and residents has always been a priority for the Welsh Government. We have been working for months to meet the challenges of distribution and believe we have a feasible solution which we will deploy at pilot sites from Wednesday. Care home staff have been offered immunisation at Health Board centres whilst awaiting the mobile model to commence.”

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“We are now very confident NHS hospitals can safely repackage and transport vaccine to care home without compromising its stability.”

As further supplies become available and additional vaccines receive MHRA approval, a staged approach will see other groups be offered the vaccine, based on risk of serious complications and deaths.

People are urged to wait to be invited, which will happen through NHS systems. Please do not ask your pharmacist or GP.


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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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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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