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Stay at home this Easter, urges First Minister

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WALES’ First Minister and emergency services are calling on the people of Wales to stay home and respect social distancing this Easter holiday. The call comes as warm weather is predicted, sparking fears people will venture out of their homes.


The letter from First Minister Mark Drakeford is signed by Wales’ emergency and health services and council leaders, as well as the Chief Executive of Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority.


Health minister Vaughan Gething and chief medical officer Frank Atherton join the NHS, the police, fire and ambulance services, charities, councils and voluntary organisations as signatories to the letter.


It reads: “As the Easter bank holiday approaches, we have one message for everyone. Stay home and save lives.


“Our public services are working around the clock to care for and keep people safe during the coronavirus pandemic. Frontline workers are putting our health and care first, every day.


“We must continue to do everything we can to support them; to protect our NHS and to save lives.


“Stay at home and help stop the virus spreading.


“We know it’s hard and we want to thank you for sticking to the rules. There are some early signs this is having a positive impact but there’s still a long way to go. We know that staying at home for long periods is difficult and families all over Wales are making many sacrifices every day.


“Most people are doing just this, but it’s really frustrating to see some people flouting the rules and putting other people at risk. We are taking action to stop this happening.


“These rules are there to protect you and your loved ones. For most people the virus will cause a mild illness, but there’s a large number of people – children, adults and grandparents – who are at risk of serious illness if they are exposed.


“Sadly, a lot of people have already died after catching coronavirus. Families across Wales have lost loved ones to this virus – if we don’t act now, even more deaths will follow.


“Our actions and decisions over the Easter bank holiday weekend, and in the coming weeks and months, will shape Wales for years to come.
“Please – stay home and save lives.”

The letter is signed by:

Mark Drakeford AM, First Minister of Wales
Vaughan Gething AM, Minister for Health and Social Services
Frank Atherton, Chief Medical Officer for Wales
Andrew Goodall, NHS Wales Chief Executive
Tracey Cooper Public Health Wales Chief Executive
Carl Foulkes Chief Constable, North Wales Police
Mark Collins Chief Constable, Dyfed-Powys Police
Matt Jukes Chief Constable, South Wales Police
Pam Kelly Chief Constable, Gwent Police
Andrew Morgan WLGA Leader, on behalf of all Welsh Local Authorities
Arfon Jones, Police and Crime Commissioner for North Wales
Dafydd Llywelyn, Police and Crime Commissioner for Dyfed-Powys
Alun Michael, Police and Crime Commissioner for South Wales
Jeff Cuthbert, Police and Crime Commissioner for Gwent
Jason Killens, Chief Executive, Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust
Ruth Marks, Wales Council for Voluntary Action Chief Executive
Simon Smith, Chief Fire Officer North Wales Fire and Rescue Service
Chris Davies, Chief Fire Officer Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service
Hugh Jakeway, Chief Fire Officer South Wales Fire and Rescue Service
Tegryn Jones, Chief Executive, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority
Emyr Williams, Chief Executive, Snowdonia National Park Authority

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WASPI unaffected by appeal’s failure

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A CAMPAIGN group for women born in the 1950s, whose state pension age has increased from 60-65, lost an appeal against a decision to deny them compensation for lost pension income.
Backto60 brought two test cases to the High Court last year when those cases were lost the group appealed. The Court of Appeal released its judgement rejecting the appeal on Monday, September 14.
The group’s campaign calls for a reinstatement of the age of 60 for women’s state pensions and compensation of the pension women have missed out on.
The Court found making the state pension age the same for men and women did not constitute unlawful discrimination.

WASPI CAMPAIGN UNCHANGED


The case’s failure will not affect the far better known and more widely-supported Women Against State Pensions Injustice (WASPI) campaign.
WASPI has long campaigned on the issues regarding the increase in the state pension age for women. They argue that setting aside any claim of discrimination, the UK Government failed in its duty to inform affected women adequately of the changes to the state pension age and the effect those changes would have on their pensions.
A statement issued by WASPI after the Backto60 legal challenge failed said: “Many women will be disappointed today at the judgement from the High Court.
“Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) will continue to campaign for what we believe is achievable and affordable. Compensation for women who have been unfairly disadvantaged with a rapid increase to their State Pension age (SPa). 
“WASPI is not opposed to the equalisation of the SPa with men but it was done without adequate notice, leaving no time to make alternative arrangements. Women were informed directly some 14 years after the SPa was first changed, many only given 18 months’ notice, of up to a six-year increase, many others were not informed at all. This left their retirement plans shattered.
“The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman is currently considering six sample cases of maladministration out of the thousands of complaints made to the DWP by WASPI women.”
Former Conservative Pensions Minister, Baroness Roz Altmann, said: “When Pensions Minister, I saw copies of letters written by the Government to millions of these women in 2003 and 2004 about their State Pension, which failed to highlight that their pension would not be paid at age 60. These official letters failed to highlight that these women’s pension would not start being paid at age 60. It merely informed them what State Pension they might receive when they reached State Pension Age, but they did not tell them what that age would be! 
“Receiving a letter from the Pensions Department about their State Pension, which did not urge them to check what their State Pension Age would be, may have lulled them into a false sense of security that they would receive it from age 60.
“This looks like maladministration.”
During the election campaign last year, Boris Johnson pledged to place ‘fresh eyes’ on the issue and said he felt sympathetic to the WASPI campaigners. Asked on Tuesday about the progress of those promised considerations, he failed to answer.


THE APPEAL ISSUE

The main issue in the appeal was whether the changes to the state pension age brought in by Parliament from 1995 onwards, unlawfully discriminated against women. Backto60 argued, amongst other things, women born in the 1950s were less likely to have contributed to the state pension scheme or were disproportionately in lower-paid jobs than men.
The Pensions Act 1995 provided that a woman born before 6 April 1950 would still receive her state pension at age 60 but a woman born after that date would receive her pension on a specified date when she was aged between 60 and 65, depending on her date of birth. The Pensions Acts 2007, 2011 and 2014 then accelerated the move to age 65 as the state pension age for women and raised the state pension age for some men and women to 66, 67 or 68 depending on their date of birth. 
Successive UK Governments made changes to address the massively-rising cost of state pensions.
When the state pension age was originally set, both pension ages were fixed at 65. When revised in 1940, women’s pension age was dropped to 60. At the time those ages were fixed, life expectancy meant the state pension was likely to be paid out for only a few years after retirement age. The lower age was fixed at 60 for women to reflect their then-dependence on a single male breadwinner in the family and the prevailing age difference between married couples.
In the post-war period, life expectancy increased, first gradually and then with increasing speed. 
The boom in average life expectancy means the state pension is the largest single drain on the welfare budget – taking £111bn of it in the year 2018-19 (DWP figures). In comparison, payments for unemployment benefits totalled £2bn.
The UK Defence budget is around £28bn
In normal circumstances, the claims brought to the Court would have been barred due to the delay in bringing them. Time was extended to bring the claims. The question of the delay was, however, relevant only to the discretion whether to grant relief if unlawful discrimination was proved. 
The long delay in bringing the claims made it impossible to fashion any practical remedy. The Court noted unchallenged expert evidence that the cost of reinstating pensions would exceed £200bn – more than seven times the total defence budget and around the same as the whole of the health and education budgets combined (Figures Office of Budget Responsibility).

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Businesses urged to prepare for NHS COVID-19 app

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1. The NHS COVID-19 app currently being trialled will launch on Thursday 24 September in Wales and England including QR check-in at venues

2. Business venues urged to download NHS QR codes

3. QR codes will be an important way for individuals to record their movements helping the NHS Test, Trace, Protect system

4. Businesses across Wales and England like pubs, restaurants, hairdressers and cinemas, are being encouraged to have NHS QR code posters visible on entry, so customers who have downloaded the new NHS COVID-19 app can use their smartphones to easily check-in.

The move comes ahead of launching the NHS COVID-19 app across Wales and England on Thursday 24 September.

Checking in with the app will enable people to keep a diary of the locations they have visited, which will be held securely in the app. If there is a COVID-19 outbreak linked to their visit, users will get an early warning alert from the NHS. If they have a positive test for COVID-19, people will be able to use the diary to tell contact tracing teams where they have been, helping to manage COVID-19 and protecting other people.

With coronavirus cases rising in the UK in the last few weeks it is essential that businesses do all they can to protect their customers and control the spread of the virus. The NHS QR code and check in function is in addition to existing measures. Venues in Wales which are legally required to collect and keep a record of visitors will still need to do so.

Wales’ Health Minister, Vaughan Gething, said:

“The launch of the NHS COVID-19 app is an important part of coronavirus response, supporting our NHS Test, Trace, Protect programme in Wales. Working on a joint Wales and England basis is the most practical option here, as we know there is a lot of movement across our shared border. It makes sense to use the same app, working in exactly the same way, regardless of which country you’re in.

“The Welsh Government has worked closely with the NHS App team to ensure the app is easy-to-use and gives people the right advice and guidance, tailored to the country they reside in. I strongly encourage people in Wales to download and use the app when it launches.

“The more people download and use the NHS COVID-19 app, the more it will help us to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

UK Government’s Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, said:

“With coronavirus cases rising, we need to use every tool at our disposal to control the spread of the virus including cutting-edge technology. The launch of the app later this month across England and Wales is a defining moment and will undoubtedly aid our ability to contain the virus at a critical time.

“We are now urging businesses to download posters for their premises ahead of the launch of the NHS COVID-19 app. This will allow the public to seamlessly check-in to venues using the app when it launches.

“It is vital we are using the NHS Test and Trace system to reach as many people as possible to prevent outbreaks and stop this virus in its tracks. This function will make it simple and easy so we can keep this virus under control.”

The app has a range of additional, enhanced features that will help to reduce personal and public risk from COVID-19 as part of the wider test and tracing services.

1. Risk alert: letting users know the level of coronavirus risk in their postcode district
QR check in: alerting users if they have recently visited a venue where they may have come into contact with someone who later tests positive with COVID-19

2. Symptom check: allowing users to check if they have coronavirus symptoms and see if they need to order a free test – all in one place

3. Test: helping users book a free test through the app

4. Isolation countdown: if a user is told to self-isolate, a timer will help countdown that period and relevant advice will be provided

5. Businesses are just one sector encouraged to use the NHS system. Universities, hospitals, leisure premises, civic centres and libraries will also be urged to display posters in communal areas such as cafes.

Kate Nicholls, UK Hospitality CEO said:

“Hospitality’s top priority is to protect the health of our customers and staff but there’s also the added appetite to avoid a return to lockdown and loss of trade. It’s crucial that information is gathered and deployed both effectively and securely.

“We would urge all hospitality businesses to support the roll out of the app and download their QR posters to help defeat the virus.”

Venues should download the QR codes at www.gov.uk/create-coronavirus-qr-poster

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Train fire is now out, but now concerns surround pollution risk to Loughor Estuary

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FIRE FIGHTERS have now extinguished the fire, involving a freight train, near Pontarddulais Road, Llangennech, Carmarthenshire. Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service handed over the scene to British Transport Police and Network Rail at 08:30am on Friday 28th August 2020.

Superintendent Andy Morgan of British Transport Police said: “Overnight, officers from British Transport Police, Dyfed-Powys Police, the Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service, ambulance service and Carmarthenshire County Council dealt with a major incident on the railway line near Llangennech.

“We have launched an investigation and will be assisting the Office of Rail and Road and the Rail Accident Investigation Branch to establish the exact circumstances behind the incident.

Network rail staff assess the damage (Image Herald/D Harries)

“What we know is a freight train, carrying large amounts of diesel oil, caught fire and a number of its carriages also derailed. Thankfully, despite the clear danger, no injuries have been reported. The two members of railway staff operating the train were able raise the alarm and uncouple the locomotive and move it to a safe space.

“The fire was significant due to the quantity of fuel it was carrying and presented a possible danger to the wider community.

“As a precaution, roads were shut, and Dyfed-Powys Police evacuated a large number of homes within a radius of the fire.

“I believe around 300 people were affected and I’d like to thank everyone for their understanding and quick action in what must have been a frightening time.

“At this time, the cause of the fire is unknown and, while the fire continues, there is still a substantial risk within its immediate vicinity, so our advice remains for people to avoid the area.

The fire was extinguished by 8.30am on Friday morning (Aug 28) (Pic D Harries/Herald)

“Our officers are conducting initial enquiries and are in the process of collecting key witness statements and CCTV. Once the fire is extinguished, and the scene is safe to assess and investigate, they’ll be assisting the ORR and RAIB further at the scene.

“This was and remains a very challenging incident. I’d like to thank all of our partners for their ongoing support and work to ensure the safety of the surrounding community.”

Farmers, landowners and cockle pickers near to the derailment were warned by Natural Resources Wales that “they will not be able to carry on as normal tomorrow”, as the extent of the spillage was assessed.

The Loughor River, near to the site of the derailment, marks the border between Carmarthenshire and Swansea and reports of diesel oil floating on the surface of the river began to come in on Thursday afternoon and throughout the evening.

The Burry Inlet Cockle Fishery encompasses the Loughor Estuary and three other Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Fisherman Neil Esmonde spotted diesel in the Loughor Estuary (Image: Facebook/N Esmonde)
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