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Scientists issue urgent appeal for help on ground-breaking Covid genetic study

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SCIENTISTS involved in a ground-breaking COVID-19 genetic research study are urgently asking people across Wales who caught the virus to donate a small amount of blood to their project.

To help encourage as many people as possible to join the study, volunteers are now able to quickly and easily book an appointment for a nurse to visit their home and donate a sample.

The unique GenOMICC COVID-19 Study, which is being delivered in Wales through Health and Care Research Wales, analyses the genes of people who have had the virus to discover why some experienced mild or no symptoms while others became extremely ill. The study is already contributing to the fight again COVID, with preliminary results helping identify possible new treatments.

study open to anyone who caught COVID but didn’t need hospital treatment

However, for the study to continue to make progress, the scientists urgently need to recruit 2,500 more people from all backgrounds. Along with seeking the help of members of Asian and Black communities, they’re also keen for more men to volunteer.

The home appointment system has already proved popular when the scheme was launched in Scotland and Bradford earlier this year – and with lockdown restrictions beginning to be eased in Wales, organisers are hoping for a similar response from people across the country.

“This study has one key objective – to help us understand why COVID-19 has impacted different groups in different ways,” said Dr Matt Morgan, Consultant in Intensive Care Medicine at the University Hospital of Wales and Specialty Lead for Critical Care at Health and Care Research Wales.

“Across the UK, a disproportionate number of people who ended up in hospital have been male as well as people with Asian and Black heritage – that’s why we need people from these groups in particular to join the study as soon as possible.”

“If you are eligible, please register and join the project. You’ll be making a direct contribution to helping improve our knowledge of the virus and discovering new ways of beating it.”

scientists issue urgent appeal for assistance to help them identify new treatments

Dr Kenneth Baillie, the study’s Chief Investigator, said: “We’re appealing for more volunteers from all walks of life to come forward and register. We need to find people who tested positive for COVID but experienced either mild or no symptoms and didn’t require hospital treatment. To maximise the study’s potential, it’s important these volunteers are similar in age, gender and ethnicity of those people who were severely affected and hospitalised.”

Professor Sir Mark Caulfied, Chief Scientist at Genomics England added: “The quicker this research can be completed, the faster we can solve the COVID-19 puzzle and protect vulnerable people.

Genetic research into COVID-19 is now playing an increasingly important role in our fight against the virus, enabling us to identify new forms of the virus and develop treatments.

“The findings from the GenOMICC COVID-19 Study will improve the treatment, care and outcome for those most at risk and lower the number of deaths.”

Dr Nicola Williams, Director of Support and Delivery at Health and Care Research Wales, said: “It’s vital we learn as much as possible about COVID-19 and to do that we need people to volunteer to take part in research. By introducing an appointment booking system, the GenOMICC COVID-19 Study is giving people the opportunity to contribute to potentially life-saving research from their own homes. These contributions can help provide the evidence we need to give all patients the best possible outcome.”

The research project is open to anyone who tested positive to COVID-19 but experienced mild or no symptoms and didn’t require hospital treatment – volunteers can register online here.

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Health

First Minister encourages people to get the flu vaccine as he gets the jab

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Mark Drakeford receiving his flu vaccine

THIS week, First Minister Mark Drakeford, got his flu vaccination and encouraged others to take up the offer this winter to help keep people safe and well.

This year will be Wales’ largest ever flu vaccination programme, with people aged 50 and over and all those eligible for a free vaccine being invited to have their jab.

The school’s flu vaccine programme has also been extended this year to include all those in secondary school in years 7-11.

The Welsh Government has also extended the free flu vaccine to all primary care workers in Wales.

Those eligible for the free flu vaccine also include pregnant women and people with underlying health conditions.

The COVID booster programme will also be co-administered to those who are eligible where appropriate to do so, in an effort to improve efficiency and increase uptake of both vaccines. Both vaccines can be administered in succession without delay so there is no need to postpone either appointment once booked

First Minister for Wales, Mark Drakeford, who received his flu vaccine this week, said:

“Unlike last year, we are expecting a significant amounts of flu to circulate this winter and Covid is still with us. It’s very important people take up their offer of the flu vaccine as well as the Covid booster. Data suggests this winter flu season could be 50% to 100% higher than a typical season.

“As we have seen with COVID, vaccines play a huge role in helping to help protect us.  They are the best way to keep everyone safe and help stop the spread of the virus.

“We want to protect as many people as possible, particularly those who are most vulnerable in our community, and reduce the pressure on our NHS.”

Anne McGowan, Nurse Consultant for Public Health Wales’ Vaccine Preventable Disease Programme said:

“Having a flu vaccine every year is one of the most effective ways to protect against flu.”

“Getting it is simple, and for most eligible groups is available from either their General Practice or a Community Pharmacy, with separate arrangements in place for school-age children and NHS staff.

“To help extend protection against infection it is very important to get your COVID-19 booster vaccine when offered. It is available to those eligible groups that completed their primary course of the vaccinations earlier this year.

“COVID-19 booster vaccinations are offered by invitation at existing local mass vaccination centres. Please get yours when you are invited.”

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Covid-19 rule changes in Wales

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As the Welsh Government attempts to curb the country’s high Covid rates, self-isolating laws are changing in Wales.

Welsh restrictions are being revised in the latest three-weekly review.

In light of the First Minister’s warning that if rates don’t fall in the next three weeks restrictions will be reinstated at the next review on November 19.

What is changing in Wales?

• If someone in your household tests positive or has Covid symptoms you’ll now need to isolate until you’ve had a negative test.

• You’ll need a Covid Pass in theatres and cinemas from November 15. 

• Headteachers will be helped to introduce measures if case rates are high locally.

• Shops have been encouraged to get people to stick to the rules to wear masks.

• Businesses encouraged to resume working from home.

Self-isolation: what’s changing?

It is currently not necessary to self-isolate if you are double vaccinated and living with someone who tests positive, unless you have symptoms or a positive test yourself.

When someone in a household has symptoms or tests positive for Covid-19, the Welsh Government’s new guidance recommends that adults who are fully vaccinated, and children and young people aged five to 17, should isolate themselves until they have received a negative PCR test.

If you are not vaccinated, you will need to self-isolate for ten days following contact with someone who has tested positive, including close household contacts.

It is important that you self-isolate until you have taken a PCR test if someone in your household tests positive for the disease. Once the test is negative, you do not need to isolate.

If it is positive, you too will have to isolate. Also, you will have to isolate while you await the results of the test.

Besides that, what else is changing?

From November 15, you’ll need a Covid Pass to go to the cinema or theatre, meaning they are now needed in more places in Wales.

Staff and secondary school students will also be encouraged to take twice-weekly lateral flow tests to help keep coronavirus out of schools.

Retailers have been asked to ensure that people are wearing their masks indoors.

Welsh Government has also encouraged people to work from home “wherever possible”.

What are the latest figures for Wales?

The latest figures for Wales, released on Thursday, showed another 12 people in Wales have died with coronavirus.

New figures from Public Health Wales (PHW) published on Thursday, October 28, which cover the last 24-hour period, show the total number of Covid-related deaths in Wales is now 6,134.

There were also 2,664 new positive cases recorded in today’s update, bringing the total number since the pandemic began to 432,395.

The latest seven-day infection rate across Wales based on the cases for every 100,000 people (for the seven days up to October 23) now stands at 671.3 – a fall from the 699.7 reported on Wednesday and a second consecutive day where rates have fallen. 

First Minister Mark Drakeford has said the rates must drop in the next three weeks, or restrictions will be considered again.

The four UK chief medical officers have asked the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation for urgent advice about reducing the interval between the second dose of the vaccine and the booster.

Welsh Government said that almost 400,000 people have had their autumn booster since the programme was launched and more than 40% of 12 to 15-year-olds have had their vaccine.

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Health

New plan to keep Wales open and safe during “challenging” winter ahead

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The First Minister, Mark Drakeford, will today (Friday October 8) publish new plans to help keep Wales open and safe during the difficult autumn and winter months ahead.

The Welsh Government is publishing an updated Coronavirus Control Plan, which outlines the key actions, which could be put in place to control the spread of the virus.

Wales will remain at alert level zero for the next three weeks, following the latest review of the coronavirus regulations. This means all businesses are open and Wales has the lowest level of restrictions.

Speaking ahead of his press conference, First Minister Mark Drakeford said:

“We are facing a challenging winter ahead – coronavirus hasn’t gone away and flu is forecast to return this winter.

“Vaccination is the best defence we have against coronavirus – the more people who are fully vaccinated, the better our chances of controlling the spread of this awful virus.

“We will continue to focus our efforts on increasing take up of the Covid-19 vaccine across the age and priority groups and rolling out the booster vaccine too. We also encourage everyone who is eligible, to have their flu jab this year.

“There is also a range of other measures we can all take to help protect ourselves and our loved ones, such as washing our hands, reducing the number of people we meet and wearing a face covering in indoor public places.

“These measures have helped keep us safe throughout the pandemic and they will also help to protect us from other winter viruses, such as flu and other respiratory infections.”

The latest version of the Coronavirus Control Plan sets out two planning scenarios for the pandemic over the winter – in the first, called Covid Stable, Wales remains at alert level zero through the autumn and winter, with all businesses able to open.

This is thought to be the most likely scenario for the future, as we become used to living with coronavirus and we gradually move out of the pandemic to a position where the virus becomes a seasonal illness.

Under this scenario, if case rates fall, measures could be relaxed further in response, and if they rise, some existing measures could be strengthened to protect people’s health.

The second planning scenario, called Covid Urgent, is designed to deal with any sudden changes to the situation, caused by the emergence of a new, fast-spreading variant or if vaccine immunity levels fall, causing a rise in pandemic pressures, which risk overwhelming the NHS.

In such a scenario, the alert level system and restrictions would be used proportionately, but as a last-resort means, to protect people’s health, control the spread of infections and to protect the NHS.

Help keep Wales safe:

• Get your Covid-19 vaccines, including your booster when invited

• Get tested and self-isolate if you have symptoms

• Outdoors is safer than indoors

• Keep your distance when you can

• Wash your hands regularly

• Wear a face covering in indoor public places

• Keep indoor places well-ventilated

• Work from home whenever possible

• Use a Covid Pass in nightclubs and large events.

Commenting on the First Minister’s announcement Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Minister Russell George MS said:

“Like the First Minister acknowledged, vaccinations have proven to be the key that unlocked society and the economy after severely weakening the link between infection and hospitalisation. To those who have yet to be vaccinated, we urge them to do so and those eligible to get a booster jab.

“However, while we remain at Level 0, new restrictions are coming in as the coercive, ineffective, and anti-business Covid passports will limit our freedoms, fail to limit the spread of coronavirus according to the Welsh Government’s own scientists, and add additional burdens on already stretched businesses.

“There has been a poor communication campaign from the Welsh Government on their introduction, little justification of their effectiveness, a failure to address confusion and fix bugs, and no explanation on how they will police the alternative Covid test system so open to abuse.

“We have passed the peak of infections without further restrictions and passports will do little to stem the problems that has led to the worst-ever A&E waiting times, longest ever NHS treatment backlog, and second slowest ambulance response times built up under Labour mismanagement.

“So instead of further restrictions, we need Labour ministers to bring forward a proper winter pressures plan that introduces the Covid treatment hubs for which Welsh Conservatives have long called for and reverse their damaging decision to bring in Covid passports.”

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