Covid briefing: seven things you need to know as ministers meet to discuss latest restrictions in Wales

Here are the headlines on the morning of Thursday, 6 January, as ministers meet to discuss the latest restrictions in Wales amid a massive surge in cases.

First Minister Mark Drakeford will announce the next review of COVID restrictions tomorrow (Friday, 7 January), with increasing calls from the hospitality sector for change. Bars are closing, Wales is blaming sanctions, and a nightclub boss has warned of bankruptcy and job losses.

At the same time, the number of coronavirus cases is rising and there are major problems with staff absenteeism in many sectors, with 75% of the care home sector workers sick. Check out the latest COVID figures for your region here.

Boris Johnson has confirmed that there will be no more COVID rules in England for the next three weeks, meaning far fewer restrictions across the border.

But health leaders have warned the NHS is facing a “staff crisis” as more than 20 trusts across the UK were on alert at the highest level.

The NHS Confederation said that many hospitals were reporting that up to 10% of staff were either in self-isolation due to Covid or were ill for other reasons, such as the number of people in a hospital with coronavirus.

And in remarks first to The Guardian, the organisation’s chief executive Matthew Taylor said: “The Prime Minister’s attempt to reassure the public that the NHS is not being overwhelmed is based on the experience of staff working in parts of the NHS. Won’t chime along.”

Government data also showed that a total of 17,276 people with Covid-19 in the UK were in hospital as of 4 January, up 58% week-on-week. Read more about the good news from hospitals in Wales despite rising patient numbers.

The figure is the highest since February 19 last year, though well below the peak of around 40,000 in January 2021.

Earlier, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman acknowledged that more than 20 NHS Trusts have now declared a serious incident – the highest level of alert meaning there are fears that priority services may not be delivered safely .

But he insisted it was “not a good indicator” of healthcare pressure.

In the Commons, Boris Johnson said hospital admissions are “doubling every nine days” and “we are experiencing the fastest increase in COVID cases ever known.”

He said cases were doubling every week among the over 60s.

But he said Plan B measures are “helping to take the lead from the Omicron wave”, slowing the spread, easing pressure on the NHS and buying the booster campaign time to take effect. Take a look at Mark Drakeford’s alternatives being discussed today.

Students will return to school in Wales today

Education Minister Jeremy Miles has warned pupils to expect face-to-face learning disruptions for the first few weeks of term, as he gave an update on returning to school.

Mr Miles issued a statement ahead of most schools in Wales returning to face-to-face teaching today (January 6), two planning days after the Welsh Government asked schools to put the calendar in place at the start of the term Was.

He said distance learning should be kept to a minimum and urged schools to focus on supporting children through their exam years. The school Astin inspection, which was scheduled for this month, has also been cancelled, thanks to the added pressure from the Omicron edition.

Several schools had volunteered to participate in the pilot for the new inspection regime, but this will no longer be the case, the minister confirmed.

The minister said in a written statement: “While we anticipate a period of disruption in face-to-face learning over the next few weeks, we have reiterated to schools and colleges that any period of distance learning should be kept to a minimum.” Read more.

Three issues affecting hospitals

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents health trusts across the UK, said hospitals were being hit by three issues at once – hospitalisation, staffing and the increasing number of non-Covid issues that are causing the pandemic. were present before.

He said the NHS was “stretched like never before”.

And Mr Taylor added: “We urge the Government (in England) not to let their optimism lead to complacency given the rapidly changing situation we see on a daily basis.

“It is up to the government to review the data to see if further sanctions are needed and we urge ministers to make the right decisions in light of emerging evidence.”

The ONS said an estimated 3.7 million people in the UK had COVID-19 in the week ending 31 December, up from 2.3 million in the week to 23 December and the comparative figures were the highest since the start in autumn 2020.

test changes

Plans are being implemented across the UK to eliminate the need for confirmatory PCR tests for people with no symptoms who have tested positive using a lateral flow device (LFD).

The change in testing procedures is aimed at freeing up laboratory capacity for PCR tests, requiring confirmatory tests in asymptomatic people, until the current high levels of infection subside.

This change was being implemented in Wales and Scotland from today and in England from January 11.

Wales’ Health Minister Eluned Morgan said people who have COVID-19 symptoms should still undergo a PCR test. Read more about the rules here.

She said: “There is a lot of pressure on our testing at the moment and we have to take measures to ensure that testing is available.

“Lateral flow tests are very accurate. Do a PCR test if you have symptoms.”

Ministers also approved changes to travel arrangements for England, eliminating the need for pre-departure tests from 4am on Friday. Ministers in Wales later announced they were reluctantly following the decision. Read more here.

The requirement to self-isolate on arrival until a negative PCR test was received was also being ditched, instead returning to the system in October last year, where passengers were required to take lateral flow tests no later than two days later. . Arrived in England with PCR test if they were positive.

O’Micron fears fuel last-minute Christmas retail sales

Hopes of a last-minute boost to Christmas for UK retail destinations were dashed by the rise of Omicron, consumer panic about working from home and missing out on festivities, today’s footfall figures confirm.

Springboard data shows footfall across all UK retail destinations in December was 18.6% below 2019 levels, the worst result since August and a significant drop from November which fell 14.5% from 2019.

Springboard said the footfall was clearly affected by the rapid spread of the Omicron version and the introduction of Plan B guidance by the government from the third week of the month.

This meant that preparations for Christmas could not result in the usual increase in buyers, due to a mix of consumer panic due to a rapid increase in infections and the risk of missing out on Christmas, with infections leading to home isolation and re- Introduction to work from home.

The biggest drop was on the High Street, where the difference in footfall from 2019 levels widened to 22.2% from 15.8% in November.

In shopping centres, the number of visitors was down 24.1% compared to 2019, but the decline from November, when it was down 22%, was more modest.

The bright spot for the month was in the fourth week starting 19 December, when the fall from 2019 narrowed to 13.8% across all UK retail destinations, from a 19.1% drop in the prior week.

However, the result was partially distorted in 2019 by falling Wednesday on Christmas Day, leaving only three full trading days versus five trading days in 2021.

Diane Wehrle, Director of Marketing and Insights at Springboard, said: “The footfall was impacted by the rapid increase in infections and the risk of missing out on Christmas, homes isolated due to infections and increased consumer panic around the resumption of work was home

“The biggest challenge for the retail sector in the coming weeks will be the ongoing work from home guidance that suppresses footfalls, coupled with increasing staff shortages due to isolation and large return of purchased goods over the Christmas period.”

Italy needs coronavirus vaccines for people aged 50 and over

The Italian government has approved a measure requiring people over the age of 50 to be vaccinated against the coronavirus as the country struggles with nearly daily new records of fresh infections fueled by the Omicron version.

Earlier in the day, 189,000 new infections were confirmed in about 59 million people in the country.

“We want to put the brakes on the development of the contagion curve and push the Italians, who still have the vaccine to do so,” Prime Minister Mario Draghi told his ministers at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday by an official in his office. has not been imposed.” Evening.

The cabinet voted unanimously to implement the mandate, which Italy’s public administration minister Renato Brunetta said was placed in Europe to crack down on people who refuse vaccination and who are now in Italy’s rapid ICU. Responsible for the majority of patients filling beds.

About 78% of Italy’s population has been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. So far, about 36% have received a booster shot, which experts say is an important means in reducing the likelihood that the infection will require intensive care or be fatal.

Mr Draghi said the decision to require vaccinations for older persons was made out of concern that they are at greater risk of hospitalization and “to reduce pressure on hospitals and save lives”.

It was not immediately announced what would happen if non-vaccinated older persons could face any penalties. But Health Minister Roberto Speranza told reporters that anyone 50 or older would be screened to see if they had a “super green pass” before entering their workplace.

It was also adopted that anyone working in or receiving services in beauty parlors and similar establishments has a negative virus test if they have not been vaccinated or have not recently recovered from COVID .

The same rule will apply to shops in shopping malls and banks and post offices. Those working in or preserving pharmacies or food stores would be exempt.

Staggering number of cases in France

Authorities announced a staggering 332,252 daily virus cases in France on Wednesday, as hospitals prepared drastic measures to contain patient surges and pressured the government to avoid a new lockdown.

With the most number of confirmed infections in a single day in Europe, France is facing an Omicron-driven surge that dominates the race for April’s presidential election and is increasingly disrupting workplaces, schools and public life.

But the country has one of the world’s highest vaccinated populations, so the government is hoping the widespread infection at the start of the pandemic won’t hit hospitals as badly, and to rapidly vaccinate the small minority of unvaccinated people. is motivating.

France’s weekly average virus cases have doubled in the past 10 days, with more than 1,800 people testing positive out of 100,000 in the past week, according to the government health agency.

The number of virus patients in hospitals has been on an upward trend for more than two months, and more than 72% of French ICU beds are now occupied by people with COVID-19.

The surge has prompted officials to allow healthcare workers infected with the coronavirus to treat patients instead of self-isolating, to ease staff shortages at medical facilities.

Meanwhile, parliament is debating a bill that would deny unvaccinated people access to restaurants, regional trains and schemes and many other public places.

Health officials say it is necessary to save lives and protect hospitals. French President Emmanuel Macron escalated tensions with an explosive remark that drew widespread criticism and was seen as a campaign ploy.

The vaccine push has also caused tension in France’s overseas territories. Dozens of anti-vaccination protesters in the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe recently attacked a hospital director and other medical staff after violent demonstrations against COVID-19 restrictions and long-running complaints.

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