Coronavirus: Morriston doctor predicts Easter peak for virus cases

Medical staff wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) wait to receive coronavirus patients at the door of the Respiratory Assessment Unit at the Morriston Hospital in SwanseaImage copyright
PA Media

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Staff wait to receive coronavirus patients at the door of the Respiratory Assessment Unit at Morriston Hospital

Doctors in Swansea expect the worst of the coronavirus outbreak to hit at Easter time.

An emergency medicine consultant at Morriston Hospital said that “probably by Easter weekend, we’re going to be getting towards peaks of activity”.

Andy MacNab said that successful social distancing should help slow down the virus’s progress.

Nurse managers at a neighbouring hospital say they have been “overwhelmed” by staff volunteering.

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Andy MacNab said all the boundaries between teams have gone “now we’re all in it together”

Morriston is one of the largest hospitals in Wales with 700 beds and has dramatically increased its capacity to deal with the expected demand.

It has plans for 120 ventilated spaces – up from a capacity of 28 intensive care beds.

Doctors are now starting to see an upsurge but feel that they are ahead of the curve, thanks to the preparations.

“The social distancing hopefully will mean that rather than a really big spike we get a long sustained plateau of activity,” said Mr MacNab.

‘High demand’

“We hope that what we’ve done here to try and create extra capacity, plus the plans for the field hospitals for the people who are going to be recovering from the virus will give us enough headroom to cope.”

Hospital managers have also been trying to recruit former doctors and nurses to help staff the new wards, pleading for those with critical care expertise to return to the profession.

Deb Lewis, hospital director at Morriston, said: “Our biggest challenge for that is staffing. We are making a plea for any nurses with critical care experience.

“There’s high demand for ventilated patients [and] we need as much support as we can for those patients and the staff we have got on the ground.”

Mr MacNab said staffing issues in his department was having an impact but there were enough to fill gaps in the rota while waiting for people to return from self-isolation.

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Sharron Price said when patients were ready to leave, relatives should take them home

‘Incredible’ response from staff

Neath Port Talbot Hospital has converted its rheumatology day unit into a 17-bed medical admissions unit to work with patients recovering from Covid-19.

It will be looking after patients who are unwell but do not need more critical or acute care provided at Morrison and Singleton hospitals in Swansea.

Senior matron Sharron Price said it had been a “very frightening time for everybody”, but she said staff had been very keen to offer to do all they could.

“When we opened our rheumatology day unit I thought we might struggle to get nursing staff to volunteer to go down there,” she said.

“But no, we’ve been overwhelmed with the staff here saying ‘let me help, I’ll do it, I might not have the skills but please teach me’.”

Ms Price said the nursing staff were working very closely with doctors to ensure the right things were in place.

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PA Media

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Workers lay flooring during the construction of the field hospital at Llandarcy near Neath, which will provide extra beds

The set-up at the hospital has brought changes, with four medical wards now in place and less surgery.

“We serve quite a frail, older population here and they’re the most vulnerable group when you look at Covid-19 so if those people don’t need to be in hospital we need to get them to somewhere safer than being here,” she said.

“I think one of the pleas I would make is that if you’ve got elderly relative or any relative in hospital that is ready to leave – and we’re working with you to try and plan that discharge – help us, take them home.

“We are seeing Covid-19 coming into our hospitals – it is not a safe place to be. We really do need to keep these frail, vulnerable people as safe as possible.”

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PA Media

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A paramedic cleans down equipment in the ambulance decontamination area outside the Respiratory Assessment Unit

Brian Owens, unit service director for Neath Port Talbot’s delivery unit, has been looking at opening up smaller spaces in the hospital to make use of every available corner – as well as making the best use of staff and resources which were needed most.

“I’ve got consultants from my team working in Cardiff, I’ve got another working at Princess of Wales in Bridgend and I’ve deployed two to Singleton hospital,” he said.

“A number of my scientific and services staff are working in labs at Singleton and I’ve released nurses from my theatre recovery suite to support Morriston and the increasing of their ventilation-type capacity.”

CurryControl / April 2, 2020 / Curry Sides / 0 Comments

Coronavirus: Where are the extra hospital beds in Wales going?

Media captionThousands of extra beds have been set up in Wales for coronavirus patients

Thousands of extra beds are being set up – many in sports and leisure facilities – to take the pressure off hospitals in Wales during the coronavirus pandemic.

NHS bed capacity is being “effectively doubled” in response to the coronavirus outbreak and NHS Wales chief executive Dr Andrew Goodall said 6,000 additional beds were being set up.

Health boards have teamed up with councils and business as part of emergency planning to look at different scenarios, depending on the numbers of patients who will need to be treated or helped in their recovery.

Here is a look at the picture across Wales:

Cardiff and Vale

Cardiff’s Principality Stadium will become a field hospital, with up to 2,000 beds.

Health board chief executive Len Richards said: “I sincerely hope we don’t need to use all of the capacity but it is far better to have developed plans based upon the scientific evidence and modelling of the experts.”

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PA Media

He said the temporary facility would free up capacity at hospitals so staff there can treat patients with other health issues.

Work with specialist contractors was happening “at pace” and the entire stadium has been made available, depending on what is needed.

The health board has been given £8m capital funding for the project.

Betsi Cadwaladr

Wales’ biggest health board is setting up three field hospitals, providing a total of 850 extra beds.

Venue Cymru in Llandudno, Conwy, will see the theatre, conference centre and arena transformed to provide an additional 350 beds for patients with respiratory complaints.

“Over the coming days we will continue to finalise details on how we will transform Venue Cymru into a temporary working hospital,” said Mark Wilkinson, executive director of planning and performance.

In Gwynedd, there will be capacity for up to 250 patients at Bangor University’s Canolfan Brailsford sport and leisure centre.

An extra 80 beds are also being set up at Glan Clwyd Hospital in Bodelwyddan, Denbighshire, for use at the end of April.

In Flintshire, Deeside Leisure Centre will provide 250 extra beds, which will also be used by patients from Wrexham.

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Work to create a temporary hospital at the Scarlets rugby stadium in Llanelli

Hywel Dda

Parc y Scarlets in Llanelli, Carmarthenshire, is being converted to offer 350 extra beds. This includes setting up bays with electricity and plumbing, as well as access to catering from stadium kitchens.

Jon Daniels, Scarlets general manager, said: “When something comes along like this that’s fairly unique, we have the opportunity to give something back to our community.”

Space will also be provided at Carmarthen leisure centre and the Selwyn Samuel Centre, Llanelli.

Bluestone National Park Resort in Pembrokeshire is to become a recovery centre. It will provide beds for 144 patients to recuperate after being discharged from hospital.

Site owner William McNamara said: “10 days ago we were a holiday resort and now we’re not.

“It’s had a huge impact on our business – for the first time in 11 years, there’s not a single holidaymaker on site.”

In Ceredigion, Plascrug leisure centre and Penweddig School in Aberystwyth and Cardigan leisure centre are the first places being converted.

Dr Phil Kloer, medical director, said: “We have followed the situation in Italy closely to learn where possible and to help our planning.

“Our European colleagues have provided feedback that patient flow and throughput is a critical factor in response to Covid-19 pressures.”

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PA Media

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Workers lay flooring during the construction of a field hospital at Llandarcy sports academy in Neath

Swansea Bay

Two sites are being converted to provide up to 1,340 temporary beds at the Llandarcy Academy of Sport and Bay Studios in Fabian Way, Swansea.

Work has already started at the sports academy in Neath Port Talbot – normally used by the Ospreys rugby squad as a training base and by local students. It will be completed in the next three to four weeks with 340 beds in use.

“The Ospreys have always been rooted in the community and region and we were happy to help in any way to ease the pressure on the NHS and to assist in dealing with coronavirus,” said Andrew Millward, Ospreys’ managing director.

Tracy Myhill, chief executive of Swansea Bay University Health Board, said she was “grateful and proud'” of how communities have come together.

These will be in addition to extra beds created at Morriston, Singleton and Neath Port Talbot hospitals, as outpatients and other clinical and public areas are redesigned.

There are no plans to provide intensive care beds in either of the field hospitals, as the most seriously ill patients will be cared for in the main hospitals.

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Laing O’Rourke

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The new Grange Hospital from the air last autumn – it could take its first patients a year early

Aneurin Bevan

Parts of the new £350m Grange University Hospital in Cwmbran will be opened a year early to provide up to an additional 350 beds by the end of April.

There is £10m funding in place and work is under way to commission areas of the hospital to meet the deadline.

Emergency trauma surgery is continuing at the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport and Nevill Hall in Abergavenny, but some operations are going to St Woolos Hospital in Newport.

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Cwm Taf Health Board

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Work has started on turning the rugby training facility at Hensol into a field hospital

Cwm Taf Morgannwg

The health board said has managed to identify 450 extra beds by repurposing community hospital wards and using nursing and care homes.

Routine surgery, outpatient clinics and appointments have been postponed since 20 March.

Its critical care capacity has also increased to 75 beds and it is aiming to increase this to 150.

A field hospital is also being converted at the Welsh Rugby Union training facility at The Vale Resort, which will provide 290 extra beds.

Rhondda Cynon Taf council’s Ty Trevithick offices in Abercynon will also be converted by mid-April, with capacity for up to 150 beds.

“It is estimated that Cwm Taf Morgannwg will require 1,000 emergency hospital beds to respond during the peak of this pandemic, and this therefore requires the local health board to think outside the box,” said council leader Andrew Morgan.

The health board hopes to confirm another field hospital location soon.

Dr Sharon Hopkins, health board chief executive, said: “The field hospitals will be vitally important in providing care to patients and communities in the coming weeks and months.

“As this work progresses, some patients will receive their care in a different location to their usual hospital to reduce the level of risk of exposure to Covid-19.”


Although Powys does not have any major hospitals, its health board is increasing the number of beds at Llandrindod Wells Memorial Hospital to provide a “dedicated environment” for patients with higher level health and nursing needs.

It is also setting up temporary care plan for Knighton community hospital for vulnerable older people who are unable to stay at home due to coronavirus, but do not need the higher level of care being offered at Llandrindod.

Powys Teaching Health Board said its arrangements would need to “adapt and evolve” and it was also working on plans for the rest of the county.

Private healthcare

Meanwhile, NHS Wales confirmed 152 additional beds have been made available from private hospitals.

CurryControl / April 2, 2020 / Curry Sides / 0 Comments

Coronavirus in Wales: Public applauds health and social care staff

People across Wales have taken part in a national applause of thanks for health and social care workers helping in the fight against coronavirus.

For the second week, people took to the streets and clapped to show their support at 20:00 BST on Thursday.

Emergency services, public authorities and the Welsh Government were among organisations that turned buildings blue in tribute to key workers on the frontline of the pandemic.

CurryControl / April 2, 2020 / Curry Sides / 0 Comments

Company denies having Welsh coronavirus testing deal

Roche logo seen displayed on a smartphone with a computer model of the COVID-19 coronavirus on the backgroundImage copyright
SOPA Images/Getty

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Roche says it has a contract with the UK ministers to increase testing across the whole of the UK

A pharmaceutical firm has said it “never had a contract or agreement directly with Wales” to supply coronavirus testing.

First Minister Mark Drakeford had earlier told AMs the Welsh Government did have a deal with Roche.

It emerged on Saturday an agreement to provide 5,000 extra tests a day had collapsed but ministers had refused to name the firm.

Wales is now part of a UK roll-out of testing.

Responding to a question from Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price, Mr Drakeford said: “We did have a deal, it was a deal that we had with Roche.”

“We believe that it was a deal that ought to have been honoured.

“We now have access to a supply of tests from a consortium of suppliers that will give us a considerable uplift in testing here in Wales.

“Truthfully, what I believe patients are interested in is that testing will be available, that staff can be tested and go back to work, and some of the detail of how that came about is not, I think, uppermost in the minds of people who need that testing.

“They want to know it’s there and is going to be available, and available in greater numbers, and we can be confident of that.”

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Getty Images

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Mark Drakeford: “We believe that it was a deal that ought to have been honoured”

Mr Price said he welcomed the first minister’s decision to name Roche as the company involved but said more information was needed.

“We still don’t know why the deal collapsed in the first place,” he said.

“It is in the public interest that the Welsh Government and Roche tell us what exactly happened to make the agreement fail.”

A spokeswoman for Roche Diagnostics said it never had “a contract or agreement directly with Wales to supply testing”.

“Our absolute priority and focus at this time is to support the UK government and NHS to scale up testing across the whole of the UK, including in Wales.

“As part of the centralised roll-out of testing, we will continue to speak to colleagues at Public Health Wales to move this forward as quickly as possible.”

Stephen Crabb, the Conservative chair of the Welsh Affairs committee,said the reported collapse raised questions about “co-ordination and co-operation between Whitehall and Cardiff Bay in the procurement of tests and other essential equipment”.

He has written to Welsh Secretary Simon Hart asking for clarification on what knowledge the UK government had of the deal, whether the company had also been in negotiations with Public Health England and on the steps the UK government was taking to work with the Welsh Government on testing.

“The people of Wales need an urgent assurance that the UK and Welsh governments are working together effectively to ensure all corners of the UK are given their fair share of testing kits,” he said.

CurryControl / April 1, 2020 / Curry Sides / 0 Comments

Coronavirus: Barry GPs team up in ‘unprecedented’ challenge

Barry Medical Centre

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West Quay Medical Centre in Barry is one of seven GP practices in a cluster

How are GP practices working with perhaps the biggest challenge the NHS has faced since its inception?

We have been speaking to staff at the Cardiff and Vale health board to see how GP practices in the Barry area have formed close working relationships in the wake of coronavirus and all its challenges.

Using more video consultations and “cluster” working is helping GPs look out for each other as they face pressures and also keep patients as safe as possible.

We have been to a practice in Barry, which has eight GPs on the staff, as well as nurses and healthcare assistants.

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Gareth Thomas said everyone has “mucked in and got things done”

Gareth Thomas, business manager at West Quay Medical Centre, Barry

What’s it been like?

“It’s been a bit unprecedented for us really. We’ve basically had to turn everything on its head.

“We are now in a process of handling everything via the telephone and if patients need to come down to the surgery they will be triaged by a clinician in the first instance and then brought down. We’ve now introduced social distancing in the practice.”

What happens when you get a coronavirus patient?

“If they contact the practice and are triaged by a clinician, who deems that they have Covid19, they will be asked to attend the surgery, they will be provided with a telephone number.

“When they arrive in the car park, they phone the number they are provided with and a clinician will then go out to greet the patient with PPE [personal protective equipment] on. Then they are brought through into a separate room.

What is happening in your area?

“There are seven practices in Barry. We’ve worked collaboratively together to put a Covid centre together in Porthkerry. So any patients triaged over the telephone are transferred there.

What’s it been like?

“Things have really changed. Credit to the staff, everybody has mucked in and got things done.

“It’s been a bit of a change for patients. The way we’ve had to adapt and deal with issues is totally different now.

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James Martin says joint working between surgeries has been set up “very, very rapidly”

James Martin, GP partner at West Quay Medical Centre is also the lead for the central Vale cluster.

How are you dealing with patients?

“Almost everything we’re doing at the moment is over the telephone and there are a certain number of patients for whom a video consultation would be beneficial. And we’ve given them the option to have a video consultation as well.

“We’ve done consultations over the telephone for quite a long time. What’s changed is the fact we’re having to do almost everything over the telephone – and we’re making sure that they’re safe to come down to the practice or not.

How is video helping?

“It gives you those additional cues that you miss from a telephone consultation. That’s really useful particularly for things like children, or even for other patients as well, but you can pick up on some of these subtle visual cues that just get missed over the telephone.”

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GP practices are taking special precautions before seeing any patients

Explain how your GP cluster works?

“Clusters were set up about seven years ago, and they’re groups of GP practices. So we have nine clusters in the Cardiff and Vale area.

“Our cluster is a group of seven practices – six from Barry and one from Sully. We work together, we do various projects to try to improve primary care services that are delivered for patients.

“This has included bringing pharmacists or physiotherapists into practices. But since Covid has hit, it’s become really vital and is a way of us as a group of practices working together to try and keep delivering primary care services.”

How has this helped then?

“If any practices are vulnerable – facing challenges from the Covid workload but also because staff members might be either self-isolating or too unwell to work – then other practices can step in and see those patients and help them to keep the doors open.

“It’s a really new way of working. It’s a huge change for us, it has required lots of logistical challenges but we’ve overcome those.

“From now on, I can run my surgery from one of the other practices in Barry which is a fantastic achievement, I think, and we’ve done that very, very rapidly. This would have taken months and months, and maybe even years, to set up before. We’ve managed to do it in a week or so, which is phenomenal really.

What else has the cluster been able to achieve?

“We’ve set up a Covid hub, so one particular practice is seeing all of the patients who we think might potentially have the virus.

“The reason for doing that is that we want to try to keep those patients away from other patients – patients who may be really particularly vulnerable from catching Covid.

“And by concentrating those patients in one area, we can ensure that we keep the other patients safe.

CurryControl / April 1, 2020 / Curry Sides / 0 Comments

Coronavirus: Cardiff hospital ready for ‘huge wave’

Media captionStaff at Wales’ largest hospital are preparing for an influx in cases of Covid-19.

A senior figure at Wales’ largest hospital says staff are in uncharted territory as it prepares to face “a huge wave” of coronavirus cases.

So far 14 patients have been admitted to intensive care at the University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff with the virus.

But Dr Richard Skone said efforts by staff so far had been monumental.

More than 800 clinicians from across different departments have been given specialist Covid-19 training.

Dealing with the virus is set to dominate the hospital’s workload in coming weeks and months.

“We’ve modelled for several different scenarios, the tension comes from not knowing which one we’ll be on,” said Dr Skone, clinical board director for specialist services.

“It’s quite difficult to know without landing in the middle of a situation what to expect – we’ve never been here before – but we certainly think we’re prepared as well as we can.”

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.lazDte.lazDte{display:block;}]]>Dr Richard Skone

Dr Richard Skone
Clinical board director for specialist services

“We’ve made every arrangement we can to maximise what we can do and have expanded our intensive care capacities quite a lot more than we had thought possible.”

The extra bed capacity to be provided at a new field hospital, with up to 2,000 beds, at the Principality Stadium would “play a vital role”, he said.


Dr Skone said it was not just about the numbers of beds but also in keeping the flow of patients going.

“As you can imagine, everybody passes through different stages of coronavirus at different times and each person is going to need to be in the right place at the right time – that flow is going to be important to keeping beds open,” he added.

“What we’re expecting with covid virus is essentially a huge wave of people coming up to hospital.”

But he said government measures on restricting contact would hopefully bring the peak in the wave of cases down – and widening it would improve the NHS’s chances of being able to cope.

Dr Skone expects the peak of the epidemic to be towards the end of May to the beginning of June but that could change depending on how people adhere to the “stay at home” guidance.

“We’re hoping by the end of this week we’ll have a better idea of the trajectory we’re on.”

“The feeling at the moment is obviously everyone is working at their maximum, they’re quite stressed but with that comes a lot of good work and good will from everybody in the hospital.”

“There’s a lot of anxiety certainly about what we might be facing but what’s come over most is how people are willing to come together.”

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Dr Chris Hingston wanted to reassure the public that the chances were on their side

‘They’re very sick patients, but we’ve had some successes’

Dr Chris Hingston, intensive care consultant

“It’s busy – we’ve had quite a few referrals in the last hour actually.

“It’s a difficult environment to work in – the covid area as we’re calling it – with the coronavirus in personal protective equipment (PPE).

“But people are working hard, working together and I guess getting used to working in that environment.”

He expects to see case numbers increase “heavily” and exponentially – what had been three a day has already grown to five referrals over the last couple of hours.

“It goes without saying, they’re very sick patients, but we’ve had some successes. We’ve taken people off breathing machines on three occasions now – off the ventilators – so that provides, you know, a real lift in the day when that happens.”

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“There are people getting better from this disease which is encouraging. But some people take longer than others to get better and of course, sadly, some people – as the public know – aren’t surviving this illness.”

He said staff were approaching work with a degree of apprehension but staff were drilled in using PPE and felt prepared for a “huge uplift and surge capacity” in intensive care.

“There may come a time, with the predictions where we can’t cope with that,” Dr Hingston added.

“But we’ll manage for hopefully quite a while yet and hopefully with the social distancing that people are practising will manage to avoid that – that remains to be seen.”

He said the unit could handle at least 120 beds.

“We’ve got ventilators, we’ve got space – the big factor will be getting enough nursing staff to manage those patients; we usually work on a one-to-one basis. We’re really comfortable that we’ll have to move away from that within national guidelines, maybe up to one-to-three to four.

“But there will be a limit on what we can provide in terms of goodness in care, so that we can actually get these patients better. Perhaps going beyond that, we may not see the usual benefits of critical care that we would hope for.”

Asked about his message to the public, Dr Hingston said: “The chances are very much on your side.

“Most people will get this disease and not be affected by it; even those who come into hospital will just get better and go home. Of course there is the, you know, smaller percentage of people who need our help. And we will do our utmost to deliver the best possible care that we can to get you better and back home to your families.”

He said they appreciated the difficulties for families not being able to be at the bedsides of patients.

“But they need to know that we are looking after your loved ones – there is someone with them and we are caring for them and we are doing our utmost to get them better, and get them home to you,” he said.

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Prof Ben Hope-Gill with one of the simulated patients used in training

Training for the virus – ‘all hands on deck’

Staff are currently being trained in a simulation ward, using actors and mannequins, so they can practice their decision-making – and also learn how to treat people safely.

Prof Ben Hope-Gill, respiratory physician and assistant medical director, is responsible for training and he said it was about staff feeling confident and refreshing skills.

“Because of the number of patients that we’re expecting to see… it’s going to be a case of all hands on deck,” he said.

“A lot of clinicians who are working in very different parts of the hospital are going to have to get involved in caring for patients with respiratory illness.”

“We’ve been able to train 250 last week, another 250 this week and by the end of next week more than 800 staff will have been through this very tailored simulation training programme, covering a range of scenarios that they expect to meet.”

“I’m very mindful that we’re going to be looking after a lot of patients who are sick. And I’m also very mindful that that they are loved ones, and they are members of families, and that it’s going to be a very, very difficult time, both for the patients, and for their families.

“And that’s very sobering, actually.”

CurryControl / April 1, 2020 / Curry Sides / 0 Comments

Coronavirus: Goats take over empty streets of seaside town

Media captionThe curious goats have been spotted eating flowers and hedges in people’s gardens

A herd of goats has taken over a deserted town centre, eating hedges and flowers from gardens.

Usually, the wild herd of about 122 Kashmiri goats venture from the Great Orme into Llandudno during bad weather.

But town councillor Carol Marubbi believes the lack of people around because of coronavirus has drawn them down.

“They are curious, goats are, and I think they are wondering what’s going on like everybody else,” she said.

The goats – some of which have recently had kids – have been spotted nibbling flowers.

She said everyone in Llandudno was “very proud” of the animals and they had been providing “free entertainment” to people from their windows.

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“There are very few visitors on the top [of the Orme], so they have come down in their droves,” she said.

“There isn’t anyone else around so they probably decided they may as well take over.”

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Lansdowne House

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The goats have been entertaining locals from their windows

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Lansdowne House

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The goats are regular visitors to Llandudno, but usually in bad weather

CurryControl / March 31, 2020 / Curry Sides / 0 Comments

Coronavirus: Tesco ‘whipping up’ storm over rate relief

Tesco storeImage copyright
Getty Images

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Tesco has been accused of a “disproportionate” response to the policy shift

Tesco has been accused of “whipping up a huge lobbying operation” against a decision not to give its biggest stores in Wales financial help.

The Welsh Government changed its mind on giving business rate relief to all retail, hospitality and leisure firms.

BBC Wales has been told Tesco asked the government for an explanation of its thinking rather than a change in policy.

Tesco said it had recruited 2,750 new staff in Wales during the outbreak.

The relief will not now be given to the “small proportion of properties” with a rateable value of £500,000 and above.

A Welsh Government source said Tesco had “been using all channels to get us to overturn the decision” and that “it’s been disproportionate”.

A Tesco spokesman said: “As Wales’ largest retailer we are doing our utmost to support both our colleagues and customers through this time of significant uncertainty.

“We have now taken on 2,750 new colleagues in Wales to provide additional help, have given our frontline colleagues a 10% pay bonus, and have provided our vulnerable colleagues with paid leave for 12 weeks.”

The policy change also affects the premises of around 50 companies, including Asda, Morrisons, the Celtic Manor Hotel, DFS, IKEA, and John Lewis.

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The policy change also affects the likes of Ikea in Wales

It also means Bluestone holiday resort in Pembrokeshire and the Principality Stadium in Cardiff will continue to pay business rates.

Bluestone is to be transformed into a recovery centre for people recovering from coronavirus, whilst the national stadium of Wales is to be used as a field hospital for up to 2,000 beds during the outbreak.

Speaking at the Welsh Government’s daily press conference, Health Minister Vaughan Gething said a “choice was made about those very large businesses and their ability to survive, and other smaller businesses who may have been much more hard pushed”.

He also said ministers would look again at firms that were “turning over their assets” to help the fight against coronavirus to see “how we provide support for them”, including Bluestone and the Principality Stadium.

In a letter sent on Monday to the boss of Tesco Dave Lewis, the first minister said the Welsh Government faces “extraordinarily difficult decisions” because it has “a finite budget and limited borrowing capacity both of which are effectively decided by the UK government”.

Mark Drakeford explained in his letter that giving business rate relief to all premises in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors “would have cost the Welsh Government nearly £120 million”.

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Getty Images

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Wales has a “finite budget and limited borrowing capacity”, said Mr Drakeford

On Monday, it was announced that the money will instead be used as part of a £500m ‘economic resilience fund’ to help businesses, charities and social enterprises survive the coronavirus crisis.

In the letter, Mr Drakeford also said it meant the Welsh Government was “able to provide critically important grants” of around £50,000 to 2,400 small and medium sized businesses.

  • Businesses ‘flouting coronavirus rules’ on working
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  • Wages, sick pay and time off explained

He added: “Given the nature of the Welsh economy, I am convinced that we have made the correct decision.

“In Wales, we will now be able to assist sectors with much less help otherwise available – companies in the manufacturing and other services sectors (for example, financial services, media and broadcasting).

“I know that you will acknowledge that, while Tesco are able to continue to trade, many of the businesses which we will now be able to help have had to suspend economic activity altogether.”

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Supermarkets have struggled to keep shelves stocked during the coronavirus pandemic

On 18 March, Economy Minister Ken Skates said the Welsh Government would match plans announced by UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak, including a business rate holiday for all firms in the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors for 12 months.

But six days later, Mr Skates and Finance Minister Rebecca Evans said the Welsh Government had since decided to not extend the 100% relief to the small proportion of properties with a rateable value of £500,000 and above.

The head of the business organisation CBI, Carolyn Fairbairn, welcomed news of an “economic resilience fund” but said failure to follow through on commitment to match England’s approach on business rates was “significant and damaging” to Welsh retailers.

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Head of the Welsh Retail Consortium, Sara Jones, called the Welsh Government’s policy U-turn “short-sighted and damaging”.

“We continue to be at a loss as to why ministers think firms operating here in Wales are undeserving of the fiscal support on offer to comparable firms in England and Scotland,” she said.

“With retail the lifeblood of many local economies, sustaining thousands of jobs across the nation, this volte-face on rates from the Welsh Government is both short sighted and damaging.

“The retail industry faced huge challenges prior the current pandemic, and those challenges have just become immeasurably more pressing.”

CurryControl / March 31, 2020 / Curry Sides / 0 Comments

Coronavirus: Extra tests would have made a difference, says minister

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There will be capacity for 1,100 tests a day in Wales this week, the minister says

There is “no getting away” from the fact extra coronavirus tests “would have made an earlier difference”, Wales’ health minister has said.

It emerged over the weekend a Welsh Government deal with a firm to provide 5,000 extra tests a day had collapsed.

Ministers have said it was “disappointing” that a company was not able to honour a written agreement.

Asked on Tuesday if the firm involved was Roche, Health Minister Vaughan Gething declined to name the firm.

Speaking to journalists, at the Welsh Government’s daily news conference, he said: “The company themselves made a decision they weren’t able to fulfil the agreement they’d reached with us.

“If I go further into that then I’m getting into an argument about that deal falling through, and not spending my time on doing what I think I should do – preparing our health service for the here and now and the challenge that is increasing every single day coming into our system.”

But the Swiss pharmaceutical company said it “does not have, and has never had, a contract or agreement directly with Wales to supply testing for COVID-19”.

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Vaughan Gething accepted there would be future “questions” about the failed deal

Roche told BBC Wales: “The UK-wide roll-out is being coordinated centrally by Public Health England.

“Roche has a contract with the UK Government to increase testing capacity across the whole of the UK, including Wales.”

On Saturday 21 March, the health minister announced the Welsh Government would have access to 6,000 tests a day by 1 April and 8,000 tests a day within a week.

At Tuesday’s news conference, Mr Gething confirmed that that would not happen because the additional tests had been expected to be provided by the collapsed deal.

However, he said that “this week we will be going ahead with over 1,100 tests a day capacity in Wales”.

Mr Gething added: “I recognise the interest the public, and in particular our front line workers, have in increasing our testing capacity sooner rather than later.”

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Adam Price: “Countless lives may now be at greater risk”

Adam Price, the leader of Plaid Cymru, said that, due to the deal falling through, “Wales will be even further behind on vital testing than we already were”.

“Precious time has been lost and countless lives may now be at greater risk,” he said.

Mr Gething accepted there would be “questions” about this after the crisis was over but, at the moment, his focus was on the challenge of preparing for the difficult time ahead.

He said: “When all this is done, I’m sure there be lots of questions for all of us about choices we’ve made at various different points in time, including this particular aspect.”

Since the deal collapsed, the health minister said the Welsh Government was working with other private organisations, the university sector and with current NHS capacity.

He added: “So you will see an increase but there’s no getting away from the fact that those additional tests that were due to have, would have made an earlier difference for us.”

Wales is not the only part of the UK trying to increase testing capacity. The UK government says there is now capacity to carry out 11,000 tests a day in England.

However, it has only been testing 7,000 people a day so far, with a total of about 9,000 separate swabs, because some people need more than one test..

It hopes to carry out 25,000 tests a day by mid-April.

On calls for field hospitals in north Wales, as are being prepared in the south, Mr Gething said his decisions were based on need and “now was the wrong time to be stoking or creating division”.

“There is no prospect of one part of Wales being prioritised over another,” he said.

The minister said more than 1,300 health and social care workers had come out of retirement to help the Welsh NHS tackle the coronavirus crisis.  

He said the figure included 670 doctors and more than four hundred nurses and midwives.

Mr Gething said it “was a fantastic show of the resilience and dedication” of former staff in such “unprecedented times”.

He added that more than a thousand people a day were also volunteering to support their communities – almost 22,000 people had now signed up as volunteers, he told reporters.

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The Principality Stadium is to be used as a field hospital for up to 2,000 beds

Mr Gething also defended Welsh ministers’ decision not to give the biggest store chains, including Tesco, financial help.

It follows the Welsh Government changing its mind on giving business rate relief to all retail, hospitality and leisure firms.

Mr Gething told journalists a “choice was made about those very large businesses and their ability to survive, and other smaller businesses who may have much more hard pushed”.

He said ministers would look again at firms that were “turning over their assets” to help the fight against coronavirus to see “how we provide support for them”.

He said that included the Bluestone holiday resort in Pembrokeshire and Cardiff’s Principality Stadium.

CurryControl / March 31, 2020 / Curry Sides / 0 Comments

Coronavirus: Welsh Government announces £1.1bn funding

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First Minister Mark Drakeford has announced new funding to help businesses come through the coronavirus pandemic

A £1.1bn support package for the economy and public services in Wales has been unveiled.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said the fighting fund was to help businesses “weather the coronavirus storm”, at the daily Welsh Government briefing.

Further schemes will be announced throughout the week as part of the package of support.

The package consists of cash reallocated from existing budgets and new money from the UK Treasury.

Speaking at the daily briefing on Monday, Mr Drakeford said: “The effect on the economy is extraordinary” adding the money would be targeted to “specific Welsh needs”.

The £1.1bn being announced is “reprioritised” money.

There will be a £500m economy crisis fund for businesses, charities and social enterprises to help them to survive the crisis so that they can provide jobs and products in the future.

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Money which would have been used for enforcing speed limits will be repurposed as roads are much quieter

Mr Drakeford said this money was over and above what had been given to businesses by the UK government to help those firms who need to go into hibernation during the pandemic.

As part of that fund, £100m will be administered by the Development Bank for Wales to help firms with cashflow problems including loans between £5,000 and £250,000 with minimal interest payments attached.

The remaining £400m will form an emergency fund giving £10,000 to firms employing fewer than nine people, grants of £100,000 to business with 10 to 250 employees as well as support for larger companies that are significantly important to Wales and have their headquarters here.

Responding to the announcement, Paul Davies AM, leader of the Welsh Conservatives said: “The Welsh Government’s £1.1bn announced today consists of only 25% of Welsh Government money as the rest is from European funding and the UK Treasury.

“Surely, we must see ministers re-prioritising their budgets even further as the emergency the country finds itself in cannot be business as usual.”

He called on the Welsh Government to “immediately bring forward a supplementary budget as the first minister promised last week”.

Analysis from Sarah Dickins, BBC Wales economics correspondent

The Welsh Government, by the way that they are allocating these funds, is recognising the importance of manufacturing firms to jobs and livelihoods in Wales.

The UK government has prioritised retail, leisure and hospitality businesses but in Wales the help is available for all sections of the economy including social enterprises and charities. Companies will have to apply for the support and meet certain criteria.

I understand that there have been detailed discussions within the Welsh Government about how its spending plans could be altered to prioritise financial help for health and economy during the crisis.

For instance money has been moved from the Welsh Government’s international trade department and also money that was to have been spent on enforcing speed limits on highways will now be prioritised to help protect jobs in the wider economy.

I also understand that around one quarter of the £1.1bn has come from European Union funds that had been given to help new businesses start up. It will now be used to help existing businesses survive.

The BBC understands that about 25% of the £1.1bn is from its existing budget.

Half of the £1.1bn comes from the consequential of what has been announced in Westminster, for example, money for the health service or railways.

However the Welsh Government, unlike the UK government, is not giving rate relief to the very biggest of properties, such as the biggest Tesco and Sainsbury’s.

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Cafes and bars are particularly at risk from the tight restrictions

That money – approximately £12m – which, in England, would have gone to those big business sites, will fund other businesses, social enterprises and charities.

The £1.1bn announced on Monday is in addition to the £1.4bn announced by Economy Minister Ken Skates earlier.

The first minister also said Wales should get more money to deal with coronavirus because of the legacy of mining and heavy industries on the population’s health.

“We have an older, sicker population. Our history of coal mining and heavy industry means we have people with breathing problems that the coronavirus is particularly likely to affect.

“Money should come to Wales based on our need, not simply our population share,” he told the press conference.

Mr Drakeford said he had “no doubt at all” the lockdown restrictions would go beyond three weeks and warned individuals and businesses to expect a “long haul”.

He was responding to comments made by England’s deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries yesterday, who said she expected the restrictions to continue for up to six months.

Mr Drakeford said: “There is no doubt at all that we are facing restrictions beyond the three weeks of the immediate period that we made on Monday of last week.

“I think there will be a gradual reduction in restrictions over time.”

He added: “We may need significant restrictions for longer than the original three weeks and beyond that period there will be time when we don’t just go from everything being restricted to nothing being restricted. That’s going to be a long haul, a difficult haul for individuals and businesses.”

Mr Drakeford also announced that antibody tests would be coming over the next weeks or months but were not ready yet.

He paid tribute to health and social care workers and said the response from people wanting to volunteer was “amazing”.

Prioritise existing funds

Mr Drakeford announced severe restrictions on people and businesses last Monday, including shutting all high street shops except those selling food, as well as pharmacies, banks and post offices.

The Welsh Government’s cabinet met last week to discuss how to prioritise its existing funds.

It has already been announced Welsh ministers will invest £1.4bn to help companies through grants and business rate relief.

Economy Minister Ken Skates previously said the Welsh Government would match plans announced by UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak to help English businesses.

It included a business rate holiday for all firms in the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors for 12 months and funding grants of between £10,000 and £25,000 for small businesses.

But the Welsh Government has since decided not to give business rate relief to the “fewer than 200 properties across Wales” with a rateable value of £500,000 and above.

The money will instead be used to create a £100m fund to help other businesses, social enterprises and charities during the coronavirus crisis.

In a joint statement, Finance Minister Rebecca Evans and Mr Skates said the businesses affected by the decision would be able to apply for extra support.

Businesses will start to receive the emergency funds by the middle of the week.

Last week, the UK government announced a scheme to pay 80% of the wages of employees unable to work during the crisis and a separate package allowing self-employed workers to apply for a grant worth 80% of their average monthly profits.

CurryControl / March 30, 2020 / Curry Sides / 0 Comments

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