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Bovine TB: WG wants to talk

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screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-09-46-22IT WAS TRAILED as a major announcement by the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, but reaction to the Welsh Government’s change of tack from having a failed strategy to talking about a different strategy was met with a decidedly mixed response from opposition parties and farming unions.

After the failure of its vaccination trial, which came to an end when international supplies of vaccine ran out, the Welsh Government has still not advanced any concrete plan to resolve the problem.

Instead, Lesley Griffiths announced a consultation.

Over the past 12 months, nearly 9,500 cattle have been slaughtered as a result of this disease, a 38% increase from last year.

The situation is even worse in endemic areas of the country, with Pembrokeshire suffering a 40% increase in slaughtered cattle, Carmarthenshire 78% and Clwyd an increase of 137% in the 12 months to July 2016 compared to the same period in the previous year.

Since January 1996, the number of animals slaughtered in Wales as a result of bovine TB has reached 118,488 animals – equivalent to 23% of the total number of adult cattle we have on farms across Wales today.

The Cabinet Secretary told AMs: “Our current programme for TB eradication in Wales comes to an end this year.”

In fact, the ‘current eradication programme’ ended in October 2015, when supplied of vaccine ran out.

When it came to the promise to ‘take stock, reflect on our successes, learn lessons’ towards a TB free Wales, there was very little in Ms Griffiths’ statement that suggested that among the lessons the Welsh Government was prepared to learn were those relating to the successful steps taken in New Zealand and the Republic of Ireland about control of the infection reservoir in wildlife.

Instead, the range of other options available will be considered, including learning from a pilot in Northern Ireland where badgers were cage-trapped and infected animals were humanely killed. Working with vets and wildlife experts, the Cabinet Secretary will consider whether a similar approach might be appropriate in high incidence areas where there is chronic herd breakdown and an objective confirmation that badgers are infected.

The conditional ‘might’ is significant.

The consultation is also seeking views on:

  • Introducing a mandatory Informed Purchasing Scheme to help farmers make informed decisions about the health of the cattle they wish to purchase;
  • Imposing compensation penalties for cattle moved within a multi-site restricted holding;
  • Reducing the TB compensation cap from £15,000 to £5,000, which would not affect the majority of farmers but would result in around £300,000 a year savings.

Responding to the Welsh Government’s statement on Bovine TB, Preseli Pembrokeshire AM Paul Davies, who speaks for the Welsh Conservatives on Rural Affairs, welcomed the Welsh Government’s consultation on its ‘refreshed approach’ but believes it is a case of ‘too little, too late’.

He said: “Sadly, Labour’s measures to tackle the scourge of Bovine TB do not go far enough in eradicating this awful disease.

“There is a clear requirement for a more holistic approach and the Welsh Government’s strategy should include all the tools at its disposal to ensure we eliminate Bovine TB in both our cattle and wildlife population.

“The proposed regional approach to tackling this disease must ensure area risk-based strategies are not disproportionate to farmers and that farmers are not facing impossibly stringent controls.

“While some of the measures are welcome, it is imperative we see more decisive action from the Welsh Government as this disease is having a devastating impact on rural communities and Welsh farming.

“Farmers in Wales need to see an holistic TB strategy that learns from other countries and if necessary difficult decisions will have to made.”

Plaid Cymru’s Simon Thomas, Mid and West regional AM, said: “This announcement is a step forward towards a proper integrated strategy to tackle bTB. It is welcome that the link between the disease in wildlife and in cattle is being recognised and that measures are being taken to address the policy vacuum that has been in place. It needs to be ensured that the measures taken are targeted, effective and humane.

“Recognition that a regional approach is needed to tackle the problem is welcome. Instances of TB infection in cattle has stayed persistently high in west Wales and is increasing in new areas in Carmarthenshire.”

“I am calling for assurances that testing and movement restrictions will remain proportionate to the disease status of an area.”

In relation to the proposal to cap compensation, Simon Thomas said: “A cut of £10,000 from the current cap of £15,000 will be a cause of concern to many farmers.”

The Farmers’ Union of Wales has welcomed the Welsh Government’s announcement that it will consider a badger test-and-cull type approach to TB as a small step in the right direction, but says many farmers will be concerned at the implications of splitting Wales into TB zones.

The proposals, announced as part of a TB eradication programme consultation launched by Cabinet Secretary Lesley Griffiths on Tuesday (Oct 18), include splitting Wales into five regions – one ‘low TB’ area, two ‘intermediate TB’ areas and two ‘high TB’ areas, with differing approaches to eradication in each area.

NFU Cymru President Stephen James said: “In setting out her plans for dealing with chronic herd breakdowns, there is a welcome recognition from the Cabinet Secretary of the link between cattle and wildlife in disease transmission, but we are concerned at the time it may take for this issue to be adequately addressed.

“It is important to stress that Welsh Government’s low incidence area in North Wales has always had low levels of disease incidence and this new area should not be seen as a vindication of previous Government strategy.”

Stephen James concluded: “We have always said that we must use every option available to us, this includes; cattle testing, cattle controls, improving biosecurity, encouraging farmers to make informed purchasing decisions and strengthening the role that local vets play in tackling this horrendous disease. Any comprehensive TB eradication strategy must also actively remove infection from diseased wildlife across high incidence areas.

“Clearly, the proposals put forward by Welsh Government in today’s statement will ratchet up the control

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Police urge visitors to ‘check the rules’

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POLICE in Powys are reminding people to check the rules before they travel, as tourists from the Midlands, London and Bristol continue to visit despite lockdown restrictions.

Last weekend more than 1,000 cars were turned around by police in the Brecon Beacons after visitors attempted to access the area around Ystradfellte known as ‘waterfall country’.

Many of those stopped claimed they thought the rules around travel were the same as in England, while others had deliberately flouted them.

Seventy-two per cent of people reported for breaches of Covid-19 restrictions in Powys since March 27 have been from outside the police force area.

“I would like to thank the communities of Powys for their cooperation in recent months in complying with requirements of the Covid 19 legislation and also reassure them we are still working hard with our partners to police the restrictions that remain in place across Wales,” said Superintendent Steve Davies.

“Our officers have worked hard to engage with the public at every opportunity throughout these unprecedented times by explaining what we are doing and why, and encouraging people to make the best choices to protect public health in Wales.

“But where people have clearly flouted the rules we have dealt with them appropriately and issued fines.”

He said officers will continue to conduct stop checks throughout Powys and across the force area this weekend.

In England, people can now travel an unlimited distance for exercise and to access so-called ‘beauty spots’.

But the Welsh Government has said people must remain local – ideally not travelling further than five miles from their home – for exercise or limited leisure pursuits, and this also applies to anyone travelling across the border.

Wales’ three national parks – which include popular sites such as Snowdon, the Elan valley and the Pembrokeshire coast – currently remain closed to the public, as do all National Trust car parks and properties.

The latest Welsh Government advice is available at gov.wales/coronavirus.

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‘Check in, Catch up and Prepare’ All school’s in Wales prepare to enter next phase

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ALL children will have the opportunity to “Check in, Catch Up, Prepare for summer and September”, the Education Minister Kirsty Williams announced today as she published details of the next phase for schools in Wales.

It is proposed that all schools will start the next phase on 29 June, with the term extended by a week, therefore ending on 27 July.

In the next academic year, beginning in September, the intention is that the autumn half-term break will be expanded to two weeks.

In each school there will be a phased approach. Year groups will be split into cohorts with staggered starts, lessons and breaks. It is expected that this will mean, at most, a third of pupils present at any one time, though schools may need time to reach this level of operation.

There will be much smaller classes, providing secure dedicated time with teachers and classmates. This time will include online and personalised classroom experience, getting children and teachers ready for a similar experience in September.

Next week, the Welsh Government will publish guidance to support schools, as well as further and higher education institutions. This will include information on managing their facilities and logistical arrangements, including buildings, resources, cleaning and transport.

The Government is also today publishing a paper from its COVID-19 Technical Advisory Group, representing the latest understanding of the virus with respect to children and education.

Further Education colleges are ensuring that appropriate measures are being taken to re-open for face-to-face learning from 15 June. They will prioritise those students requiring licence to practice assessments and vulnerable learners. This follows close working with Government and the joint trade unions.

Guidance for childcare providers will also be published in the next week, supporting them to increase the numbers of children in attendance alongside schools.

Kirsty Williams said:

“My announcement today gives schools three and a half weeks to continue preparing for the next phase.

“We will use the last weeks of the summer term to make sure pupils, staff and parents are prepared – mentally, emotionally and practically – for the new normal in September.

“29 June means there will have been one full month of test, trace and protect, which will continue to expand. I can also announce that teachers will be a priority group in our new antibody-testing programme. As we continue to keep Wales safe, this approach will be critical.

“The evolving science suggests that warm weather and sunlight gives us the best opportunity to ensure more time in school. Waiting until September would mean almost half a year without schooling. That would be to the detriment to the wellbeing, learning progress and mental health of our young people.

“This is and has been a worrying period for us all. I know that many will feel apprehensive. We have not rushed this work and this decision.

“The three and a half week period before the next phase also gives us time to keep watch on developments elsewhere and provides further check-points to review evidence and the roll-out of testing.

“This is the best practical option that meets my five principles which underpin my decision making.

“I am also convinced that it is only by returning to their own school that we will see increased attendance from our more vulnerable and disadvantaged children.

“Working together we will secure equity and excellence for pupils as they check in, catch up, and prepare for summer and September.”

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Four further coronavirus cases confirmed in Hywel Dda area

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THE LATEST figures from Public Health Wales (PHW) reveal four new cases of coronavirus have been reported in the Hywel Dda Health Board Area.

As of today, June 2, Carmarthenshire identified three new cases, Pembrokeshire has one new case and none in Ceredigion, meaning the new totals stand at 732, 279 and 42.

Wales now has a total of 14,121, with 67 new cases and seven additional deaths recorded, bringing the death total to 1,354.

With Hywel Dda reporting 61 deaths to date.

Dr Giri Shankar, incident director for the Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak response at Public Health Wales, said: “Contact tracing continues in Wales as part of the Welsh Government’s ‘Test, Trace, Protect’ strategy. Contact tracing is the process of identifying people who have come in contact with an individual with Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) in order to prevent the risk of others spreading the infection in our communities.

“Anyone who has a positive Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) test will be contacted by a team of contact tracers, and asked for details of everyone they have had close contact with while they have had symptoms.

“Please keep a note of your activities so you can easily remember your whereabouts on a given day, along with who were in contact with. You do not need to have any concerns about providing names to the tracing team. This is for everyone’s benefit and we are grateful for your continued cooperation.

“If you are asked to self-isolate, you should also comply with this request to prevent further spread of the virus.

“Tracers are trained staff and personal information that you provide will handled in line with data protection regulations and will not be shared widely.

“Over the last few weeks, Public Health Wales has been setting up the methods and guidance for how contact tracing will operate. We will continue to work closely to support local health boards and local authorities in delivering contact tracing.

“Welsh Government’s revised lockdown arrangements also continue. People from two different households in the same local area can meet up outdoors, provided they continue to maintain social distancing and strict hand hygiene.

“The announcement adds that, as a general rule, people should not travel more than five miles from home. This will help to reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading as people begin to travel more.

“Revised lockdown arrangements also apply to people in Wales who have been told to ‘shield’ from the virus. They are able to go outside and meet people from another household, provided they keep a two-metre distance.

“Future relaxation of lockdown measures will also be dependent on everyone following advice set out in the ‘Test, Trace, Protect’ strategy, including self-isolating when required.

“Information about the symptoms of Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) to look out for is available on the Public Health Wales website, or members of the public can use the NHS Wales symptom checker.

“Anyone experiencing Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) symptoms can now apply for a home testing kit using the new UK online portal. For further information and a link to the booking website, visit: www.gov.wales/coronavirus or www.llyw.cymru/coronafeirws. This will be supported by a national 119 phone service, through which people can also order a home test.

“We are encouraging everyone to download the Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) Symptom Study app, which has been supported by Welsh Government. The app allows users to log daily symptoms to help build a clearer picture of how the virus is affecting people. For more information, including how to download the app, visit covid.joinzoe.com.

“As part of wider support measures for families, Public Health Wales is offering all parents, parents-to-be, grandparents and care-givers free access to a series of online courses designed to help them understand the development and emotional milestones of their children, covering everything from pre-birth to late teens.

“To get access users just need to visit www.inourplace.co.uk and use the code ‘NWSOL’ if you live in North Wales, and ‘SWSOL’ if you live in Mid, West or South Wales.

“Public Health Wales is also continuing working to address the negative impact of Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) on the social, mental and physical wellbeing of people in Wales. Our latest campaign, ‘How are you doing?’ is now live and offering practical advice from phw.nhs.wales/howareyoudoing.

“Anyone with a suspected coronavirus illness should not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. They should only contact NHS 111 if they feel they cannot cope with their symptoms at home, their condition gets worse, or their symptoms do not get better after seven days.

“Only call 999 if you are experiencing a life-threatening emergency, do not call 999 just because you are on hold to 111. We appreciate that 111 lines are busy, but you will get through after a wait.

“We also want to reinforce the message from NHS Wales that urgent and emergency care services for physical and mental health are still open and accessible.

“For parents, if your child is unwell and you are concerned you should seek help. If you have urgent dental pain you should still call your dentist. If you have a health complaint that is worrying you and won’t go away you should call your GP practice. If you or a family member are seriously ill or injured you should dial 999 or attend your nearest Emergency Department.”

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