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Coronavirus

Community pharmacists boost the Covid booster vaccine campaign

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The drive to deliver Covid booster vaccines across Swansea Bay as rapidly as possible has itself been boosted by community pharmacies.

All 49 GP practices in Swansea and Neath Port Talbot joined the health board to deliver the first two doses of the vaccine.

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But as they are now busy delivering flu vaccines on top of their usual services, community pharmacies have stepped up to help ensure the booster is available locally as well as in the main vaccination centres.

Their involvement follows a successful pilot earlier this year which saw four of them help deliver the first two doses.

Thirteen in the Swansea area, along with Vale of Neath Pharmacy in Glynneath, have now responded to the health board’s call for expressions of interest to take part in the booster programme.

One of the first to receive their booster in a pharmacy was Nigel Godfrey (pictured above), who lives near the Vale of Neath Pharmacy.

“It was fantastic,” said Mr Godfrey. “I was working from home so I could pop down to the pharmacy on my lunch break.

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“It was local, five minutes away. A lot more convenient than having to go to one of the mass vaccination centres.

“There was no waiting, I was in and out within five minutes.

“The pharmacist put me at ease and we went into a private room. There were no problems whatsoever.”

Mr Godfrey, aged 44, is entitled to the booster because of an underlying medical condition.

“But it will also protect my friends, family and colleagues, whoever I come into contact with,” he added.

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“It’s doing the right thing, not just for myself, but also those around me and the community.”

People eligible for the booster will be contacted directly with an appointment either in one of the pharmacies or in a health board vaccination centre.

Appointments are being sent out in chronological order, at least six months after the date people received their second dose.

Six months is the threshold at which those in priority groups become eligible for the booster, not an absolute date it must be given by.

Although there are no drop-in sessions, the health board has started a reserve list for people who are aged 40 or over, who had their second dose at least six months ago.

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They must also be available to attend one of the mass vaccination centres at short notice – within two hours.

As well as the MVCs, the health board employs local vaccination centres, converted shipping containers which can be taken into communities to save people who might otherwise struggle to get to an MVC.

With the pharmacies also on board, every effort is being made to ensure as many of those who are eligible for a booster can receive it as close to their home as possible.

“However, we appreciate that will not be the same for everyone,” said Swansea Bay’s Vaccine Equity Manager, Maxine Evans.

“We send invites to people living within a certain radius of the pharmacies to begin with and, if we have slots still available, we go further out.

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“We are flexible and if people cannot get to the pharmacies because they live too far away and do not have transport, they can phone the booking office to change the appointment.

“But when we have been to the pharmacies and spoken to patients, they were really grateful and happy with the fact that it was local and easy for them to get the booster there.”

Pharmacists too say they are happy to be involved with the booster programme.

Niki Watts of Vale of Neath Pharmacy said: “We decided to take part because we believe it’s important to help the health board get the population fully vaccinated as quickly as possible.

“We are located at the heart of the community so the patients find it easy to access.

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“We have good facilities, including a nice big car park right outside so the patients don’t have to walk very far, and our own dedicated consultation rooms where the vaccinations can take place in private.”

Eligibility for booster vaccines is determined nationally. It includes all adults aged 40 and over; frontline health and social care workers; people aged 16-49 with underlying health conditions putting them at higher risk of Covid-19; adult carers; and adult household contacts, aged 16 and over of anyone who is immunosuppressed.

Top of the eligibility list are people living in residential care homes for older adults. Swansea Bay has concluded its first sweep of 70 homes in the health board area – delivering more than 1,200 boosters to residents.

For various reasons, some were unable to receive the booster when the vaccinators were present, so return visits to each of the homes are now being arranged.

Georgina Assadi, health board Covid vaccine programme assistant service manager, said many of the vaccination team had not worked in the community before.

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“It was all new to them and some were a little anxious to begin with. But they all really enjoyed it because they knew they were providing protection to the most vulnerable people,” she added.

Lead image: Nigel Godfrey is given his booster by Niki Watts of Vale of Neath Pharmacy (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

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Coronavirus

First Minister says phased easing of Covid restrictions in Wales to continue

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Wales will complete the move to alert level zero on 28 January, First Minister Mark Drakeford confirmed today, unless the public health situation changes for the worse.

He said the phased plan to gradually relax the alert level two measures and move back to alert level zero will continue.

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The latest public health data suggests Wales has passed the peak of the omicron wave and coronavirus cases are falling back to levels similar to those seen earlier in the autumn. There have also been reductions in the number of Covid-19 patients in hospital.

From Friday 21 January, Wales will move to alert level zero for all outdoor activities.

This means:

  • Crowds will be able to return to outdoor sporting events.
  • There will be no limits on the number of people who can take part in outdoor activities and events.
  • Outdoor hospitality will be able to operate without the additional measures required introduced in December, such as the rule of six and 2m social distancing
  • The Covid Pass will continue to be required for entry to larger outdoor events attended by more than 4,000 people, if unseated, or 10,000 people when seated.
  • The Covid Pass is required in all cinemas, theatres and concert halls which are currently open.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “The latest figures show we have passed the omicron peak and we can continue to lift the alert level two protections as part of our careful and phased plan.

“We will lift the limits on the number of people who can gather for outdoor events. We remain cautiously confident the public health situation is heading in the right direction and next week we will be able to complete the move to alert level zero, unless the situation changes for the worse.

“We are in this position thanks to the efforts of everyone in Wales and our fantastic vaccination programme. It is important that everyone continues to follow the rules and the guidance to help keep themselves and their loved ones safe, including taking up the offer of a booster vaccine if they haven’t already done so.”

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On Friday 28 January, Wales will complete the move to alert level zero.

This means:

  • Nightclubs will re-open.
  • Businesses, employers and other organisations must continue to undertake a specific coronavirus risk assessment and take reasonable measures to minimise the spread of coronavirus.
  • The general requirement of 2m social distancing in all premises open to the public and workplaces will be removed.
  • The rule of six will no longer apply to gatherings in regulated premises, such as hospitality, cinemas and theatres.
  • Licensed premises will no longer need to only provide table service and collect contact details.
  • Working from home will remain part of advice from the Welsh Government but it will no longer be a legal requirement.

The Covid Pass will continue to be required to enter larger indoor events, nightclubs, cinemas, theatres and concert halls.

The self-isolation rules for everyone who tests positive for Covid and the face-covering rules, which apply in most public indoor places will remain in force after 28 January.

The next three-weekly review of the coronavirus regulations will be carried out by 10 February, when the Welsh Government will review all the measures at alert level zero.

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Coronavirus

First Minister announces plan to ease alert level two protections

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A plan to return Wales to alert level zero measures will today be set out by First Minister Mark Drakeford.

The move comes as the latest public health data suggests cases of coronavirus have started to fall back from their very high levels. More than two-thirds of people aged 12 and over have received a booster or third dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.

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The full move to alert level zero will be dependent on the public health situation continuing to improve.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “I want to thank everyone for following the rules we have had in place since Boxing Day to help keep Wales safe while the fast-moving omicron variant has surged through our communities.

“I also want to thank everyone involved in our vaccination programme for the enormous efforts to give almost a third of the population a booster since the start of December – this has been vital in increasing our protection against omicron.

“The actions we have taken together have helped us to weather the omicron storm. The latest data suggests some positive signs that the peak may have passed.

“We can now look more confidently to the future and plan to start gradually removing the alert level two restrictions, starting with the outdoors measures.

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“But the pandemic is not over. We will closely monitor the public health situation – this is a fast-moving and volatile variant, which could change suddenly. I urge everyone to continue to follow the rules and have your vaccines to keep Wales safe.”

If conditions allow, the alert level two restrictions will be removed in a phased approach.

From tomorrow, the number of people who can be present at outdoor events will rise from 50 to 500.

From Friday 21 January Wales would move to alert level zero for all outdoor activities. This means there will be no limits on the number of people who can take part in outdoor activities.

  • Crowds will be able to return to outdoor sporting events
  • Outdoor hospitality would be able to operate without additional reasonable measures.
  • The Covid Pass will be required for entry to larger outdoor events.

If the downward trend continues, from Friday 28 January Wales would move to alert level zero for all indoor activities.

  • Nightclubs will be able to re-open.
  • Working from home would remain important but it would no longer be a legal requirement.
  • Businesses, employers and other organisations must undertake a specific coronavirus risk assessment and take reasonable measures to minimise the spread of coronavirus.
  • The Covid Pass will be required for entry to nightclubs, events, cinemas, concert halls and theatres.
  • The rule of 6, table service and 2m physical distancing no longer required in hospitality.

The self-isolation rules for all those who test positive for Covid and the face covering rules for most public indoor places will remain in force after 28 January.

The three-weekly cycle would be re-introduced from 10 February, when the Welsh Government will review all remaining measures at alert level zero.

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Coronavirus

First Minister to keep current COVID measures in place following latest review

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First Minister Mark Drakeford has confirmed alert level 2 measures will stay in place in Wales following the outcome of the latest regulations review.

The Welsh Government say this is due to cases of coronavirus rising sharply to their highest ever levels as the omicron wave has surged across Wales in the post-Christmas period. The latest figures show there are more than 2,200 cases per 100,000 people in Wales.

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First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “The omicron wave means we are all facing a difficult month ahead of us. We are already seeing extremely high case rates in communities and we must be prepared for cases to rise even higher, just as they have elsewhere in the UK.

“This variant may not be as severe as we had initially feared but the speed at which it is travelling and its infectiousness continue to be cause for concern.

“That makes it vital that we all take action to keep each other safe. The things which have helped to protect us all throughout the pandemic will continue to protect us now.

“This includes getting vaccinated and making your booster a priority, limiting the number of people you meet who you don’t live with, and taking a lateral flow test before going out and mixing with others.

“Together, we will keep each other safe and we will keep Wales safe.”

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The rules say that at alert level 2 people must wear a face covering (unless there is a reasonable excuse not to wear one) in all indoor public places, including when not seated in a pub, café or restaurant.

People can meet no more than five other people at a café, restaurant, pub or other public premises (unless with their household of a larger number). This applies to both outdoor and indoor areas of the premises.

The rules say you should not take part in an organised event indoors of more than 30 people or outdoors for more than 50 people. All organised events must be organised by a responsible body and have a risk assessment.

There is also the instruction for people to continue to work from home if they can.

If you test positive for COVID-19 people should self-isolate for seven days, taking a lateral flow test on day six and day seven. If either test is positive they should remain in isolation until two negative lateral flow tests or after day 10, whichever is sooner.

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Strengthened guidance has also been issued asking people to limit the number of people they meet who they don’t live with, to “flow before you go” by taking a lateral flow test before going out, meeting people outdoors wherever possible and making sure indoor spaces are well ventilated.

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