Covid-19 and the response in the north

This covid-19 pandemic has been a massive challenge here in the north of Torfaen, as it has everywhere.

However, our communities are strong and have responded brilliantly.

As a councillor in the north of the Borough, I see my role as playing a part in helping co-ordinate that response, to help keep people safe, keep services going as much as possible and helping provide people with the support they need.

Keeping services going in the face of this crisis has meant a lot of change – from social care to refuse collections to schools and so many of the other things council workers do to keep our area going.

Those services have had to plan for coping with fewer staff, as some council employees have had to shield or self-isolate for periods.

They’ve had to adapt to more home-working and to running services like refuse collections or the Household Waste Centre with the added strain of the need for social distancing where possible, to keep staff and the public safe. It’s been quite a balancing act.

Our care workers have been absolute stars, looking after those who need help in their homes and people in care homes, despite the concerns they must have felt for their own welfare.

Our schools staff and staff in areas like the Play Service and Sports Development have helped run key worker childcare facilities. Teachers have kept children learning remotely where possible, having to adjust suddenly to the new situation. None of this has been ideal, but they’ve stepped up to do their best, going above and beyond the call of duty.

Thank you to them all.

Covid-19 has also meant entirely new services having to be created, such as the tracing scheme to help stem the spread of the virus. Council staff have volunteered for redeployment to help with this scheme, working alongside Health Service staff. Business support staff have paid out over £9million to local businesses to help support them through these tough times.

Of course, the council is just part of a much wider community response, and I’d like to thank the organisations in the north of the Borough who’ve done so much good work during the lockdown, to tackle the health and financial challenges this virus has inflicted on so many local people.

Councillors set up a Coronavirus Support Fund at the start of the pandemic, all contributing to a fund. That fund has been added to by Community Councils, and has been used to purchase over £30,000 worth of food for local organisations across Torfaen.

In the north, we have worked with the Trussell Trust, Garnsychan Partnership, Noddfa Church, Trac2, Blaenavon Town Council and their Healthy Blaenavon Team to get food out to people in need, whether that’s because they’re shielding or because the pandemic has affected their finances.

Working with Torfaen Voluntary Alliance, the fund has also helped local organisations with £12,000 in grants to help with the local response, and we’ve also donated toiletries to patients in hospitals who were struggling to get supplies without family visits being allowed.

Thank you to all the organisations and volunteers who’ve made this response possible, and remembered that in tough times, we are stronger together than we are alone.

I know these last few months have not been easy, so I’d like to thank all the local people who’ve done their bit, including those who’ve followed the guidelines and stayed at home as much as possible to help stop the spread of the virus.

I know that lots of council services have had to run a bit differently to normal – some services have had to be delayed or changed – so I’d also like to thank local people for their patience and understanding.

This pandemic has caused so much suffering, and I look forward to the day when it is well and truly a thing of the past. But I hope that the community spirit it has fostered will remain in the future.

Cllr Giles Davies
Abersychan Ward

Taken from Issue 2 – Inside Torfaen Online Magazine.

https://insidetorfaen.wordpress.com/2020/06/29/second-edition-of-inside-torfaen-magazine-released/

Coronavirus restrictions relaxed further to support tourism and leisure sectors in Wales

Following the latest 21-day review of the coronavirus regulations, the First Minister has set out a phased timetable to ease restrictions for large parts of Wales’ visitor, hospitality, and leisure and tourism sectors.

He is asking the beauty sector and other close-contact services, including tattooists and nail salons, to begin preparing to reopen from 27 July, if the conditions allow.

Although cases of coronavirus are declining in Wales, the disease has not gone away and everyone has a responsibility to maintain social distancing, good hand hygiene and to respect the places and communities they visit.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said:

Together we are making good progress to tackle the spread of this virus. It is thanks to the efforts we have made together that we are able to lift the restrictions and re-open more parts of our society and economy.

However, the threat from coronavirus has not gone away and only by all of us acting responsibly will we be able to keep Wales safe. This means maintaining social distancing, thinking carefully about where we go and why.

Immediate changes will come into effect tomorrow (Saturday 11 July) when self-contained holiday accommodation opens.

From Monday, (13 July) the following will be able to open, subject to following the guidance about coronavirus-safe ways to operate:

  • Hairdressing salons and barbershops, including mobile hairdressers.
  • Pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes outdoors.
  • Outdoor cinemas.
  • Indoor visitor attractions, but a small number of underground visitor attractions will remain closed for the time being because of the higher risks associated with these environments. The Welsh Government will continue to work with these attractions towards safe re-opening.
  • Places of worship. Faith leaders can begin to gradually resume services when they are ready to do so safely.

The Welsh Government is also making changes to the regulations to allow larger gatherings of up to 30 people outdoors only where these are organised and supervised by a responsible person for sports and other leisure activities and classes.

This will allow sports and leisure activities, such as fitness and dance classes to take place outdoors, as well as collective worship.

From July 20, playgrounds, community centres and outdoor gyms will be able to reopen gradually over the following weeks as and when safety checks and mitigations are put in place. Re-opening community centres will help local authorities provide summer holiday play schemes and childcare.
The First Minister is today calling on other businesses and sectors to prepare for re-opening from 27 July:

  • Close contact services, including nail and beauty salons and businesses providing tanning services, massages, body piercings, tattooing, electrolysis or acupuncture.
  • Indoor cinemas, museums, galleries and archive services.
  • Tourist accommodation with shared facilities, such as camping sites. Opening would be from 25 July.
  • Reopening the housing market fully.

A final decision about reopening these sectors will depend on conditions and feedback from the initial opening of the tourism industry, indoor attractions and hairdressing sector.
First Minister Mark Drakeford said:

We have used our headroom to continue re-opening our economy and society in Wales. We have also used part of our headroom to enable the Welsh NHS to provide more essential care and treatment for people – services, which were suspended in March to allow the health service to prepare for coronavirus.

Our ability to carry on lifting the restrictions rests on everyone in Wales – we need everyone’s help to continue following the rule to keep levels of coronavirus at an absolute minimum.

The Welsh Government will also make changes to the physical distancing regulations to reflect some of the challenges faced by the hospitality, beauty industry and other sectors where a 2m distance cannot be reasonably maintained at all times.”

The law in Wales will continue to make the 2m distance the default position, because this remains the safest way to protect people’s health. But when 2m cannot reasonably be maintained, the regulations will require businesses to put in place a set of additional measures to minimise the risk of the virus spreading, including taking reasonable steps to minimise close face-to-face contact and maintain hygiene.

The next formal review of the regulations is due by 30 July. Detailed discussions about how indoor hospitality can operate in a coronavirus-safe way are ongoing. Options for reopening will be considered from 3 August, if conditions allow.

The Welsh Government is also discussing with local authorities and other operators how gyms, leisure centres, fitness studios and swimming pools can introduce measures to safely open. Further work is being undertaken about the risk of coronavirus in swimming pools.

My Annual Report to Torfaen

Council Committees

Cleaner Communities Overview & Scrutiny Committee

Council


Council Overview & Scrutiny Committee

Cross-Cutting Resources and Business Overview & Scrutiny Committee

General Licensing Committee (Chair)

Licensing Committee (Chair)

Statutory Licensing Committee (Chair)

I served on the following outside bodies/committees

Torfaen Leisure Trust – Board of Trustees

Local Ward Activities

During the past 12 months again using Social Media (Facebook, Twitter and Website) to keep residents informed and allowing them to make contact 24/7 including regular ward walks (Street Surgeries), it’s been an exceptionally busy period.

Estate Walk


Along with Noddfa Church the winter period was taken up helping to organise Carols Under the Arch, followed by the Ward Pantomime in January.

Carols Under the Arch


During this period helping raise funds and support local businesses as much as possible, along with taking on the Chair at the Millennium Hall Community Association and at Garnsychan Partnership.

Fundraiser in the ward


Unfortunately Covid 19 then started to appear and we went into Lockdown, expecting at first, a drop in workload, this wasn’t to happen.

At Garnsychan Partnership, we decided to throw our resources into supporting the ward and tied in with Abersychan Pharmacy and Surgery to assist prescription deliveries for isolating residents, along with linking in with Torfaen and others to provide and deliver food packages for shielding and vulnerable residents.


A massive thanks to the Partnership Manager Ms Kate Burton for organising and providing this service.


During this period I linked in with Noddfa Church to help deliver Fair Share food bags within the ward.

Food for distribution within the ward at Noddfa Church


As it became difficult for isolating residents to collect recycling equipment, it was time I felt to pick up and deliver to them, which is what happened, before arranging a collection point at Noddfa Church Hall for social distancing collection.

Delivering Nappy Sacks to isolating parents in the ward


Using my allocated exercise period during early days of Lockdown, I walked the ward to pick up on resident concerns and issues affecting them.

Walking the ward


Along with the ward Community Councillors we have organised a Scarecrow Competition within the ward to raise morale and keep the children occupied.

Scarecrow Competition


I was also honoured to personally provide prizes for a Support your Key Workers Craft competition within the ward.

Winning Entries


The first 5 months of 2020 have been challenging and draining, workloads have risen considerably and stress levels along with it.


But I’ve managed to keep in touch with Community Safety, Police and Licensing via Team Meetings online.

One of many Team meetings


Never in a million years would I have thought that I would be working as a Community Leader during a Pandemic.

Working through a Pandemic with PPE

Initiatives and special activities

Ward Pantomime


Carols Under the Arch Volunteer – Noddfa Church

Other activities and issues

Member of Pontypool Community Council Deputy Presiding Officer – TCBC


Chair – Garndiffaith Millennium Association Chair – Garnsychan Partnership


Volunteer – Noddfa Church, Carols Under the Arch Volunteer – Noddfa Food Share


Trustee – Torfaen Leisure Trust

Three-layer face coverings recommended, but not mandatory, in certain situations in Wales

The Welsh Government is following updated advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and recommending people in Wales wear three-layer face coverings in situations where social distancing is not possible.

The evidence remains clear that maintaining a two-metre distance and good hand hygiene is the most effective way to protect yourself and others from contracting coronavirus, but the updated guidance from the WHO says three layer face coverings could help provide some control of the virus in specific circumstances.

This updated advice only applies to people who are not showing symptoms of coronavirus. People who are symptomatic must self-isolate for seven days and get a test, as set out in existing guidance. Unless the test shows a negative result, they must not go out during this time, even with a face covering or mask.

Health Minister Vaughan Gething said:

Washing your hands, avoiding touching your face and maintaining a two-metre distance from others remain the best way of stopping the spread of the virus.

“On Friday, the WHO updated their guidance on face coverings, advising that they should be considered in settings where maintaining social distancing is difficult. However, to be crystal clear, wearing a face covering does not replace the need for social distancing or washing your hands regularly.”

“Further scientific evidence is needed on the benefits to the wider public of wearing face coverings, but observational findings so far suggest that homemade or purchased three-layer face-coverings might reduce transmission from one person to another if made, worn, handled and disposed of properly.”

“Therefore, on balance, we are recommending to the people of Wales that three-layer face-coverings should be used in situations where social distancing measures can be more difficult to achieve, for example, on public transport. We are not recommending their use outdoors.

“The wearing of face coverings will not be mandatory, but we will encourage people to do this for the benefit of themselves and others.”

The Minister stressed that this advice only applies to people who are not showing symptoms of coronavirus, adding:

Anyone who has a high temperature, a new, continuous cough or a loss or change to their sense of smell or taste must self-isolate for a minimum of seven days and get a test as quickly as possible. Unless the test shows a negative result, people must not go out during this time, even with a face covering or mask.

FURTHER SHIELDING ANNOUNCEMENT- SHIELDING EXTENDED

The following press announcement has just been made by Welsh Government : June 4

“Shielding to continue for 130,000 people

Almost 130,000 people will this week start receiving a letter from the Chief Medical Officer for Wales setting out the latest advice to protect them from coronavirus.

They will be asked to continue shielding until 16 August, but the letter will also describe how the medical advice has changed to enable them to go outdoors to meet other people for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

The shielded group are people who are classed as extremely vulnerable to developing serious illness if they contract coronavirus because they have a specific health condition.

They have been following strict shielding advice for 12 weeks.

Wales’ Chief Medical Officer, Dr Frank Atherton, said:

“Since the start of the pandemic, we have been focused on ensuring people who are at greatest risk are protected from coronavirus. The spread of coronavirus is being carefully monitored – if it gets lower, it is possible those within the shielded group will be able to do more. If it gets higher, we may advise those people to stop going outside and to stay at home again.”

Earlier this week, the Welsh Government announced a change in advice for people who are shielding, based on a review of the evidence by the four UK chief medical officers.

From 1 June, everyone who is shielding are being advised they can leave their homes to meet people from another household outdoors, as long as strictly follow to social distancing rules and good hygiene measures. This includes exercising outdoors.

The new August shielding date does not affect this updated advice.

Dr Atherton said:

“We are asking all those in the shielding group to continue to shield until 16 August because coronavirus has not gone away. We want to do all we can to keep those people in this group safe and that means asking them to continue to shield.

“I will continue to work with my chief medical officer colleagues to review the evidence for this group and will write to them again in the summer.”

Everyone in the shielding group has been asked to continue to rely on their existing support networks – including family and friends –for help with everyday tasks, such as food shopping and collecting prescription medicines.

For those who do not have anyone locally, the Welsh Government has worked with local authorities and the Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA), major food retailers, GPs and pharmacies to ensure they can access the support they need to continue shielding. The arrangements for weekly food boxes for those people who are shielding who have no support from family or friends will continue to be in place.

The Welsh Government also continues to work with supermarket retailers in Wales which offer online shopping and home delivery to make sure priority slots are available for people who are shielding.

Dr Atherton added:

“A huge amount of work has been going on to support people who are shielding and I’d particularly like to thank local authorities, the WLGA, WCVA and county voluntary councils for their ongoing work and support.”

Garnsychan Partnership Blog

An excellent blog from Garnsychan Partnership Manager Kate Burton.

The COVID-19 crisis has created the perfect storm for many charities like the Garnsychan Partnership.

The good news is despite the temporary closure of the Circulate Recycling Shops, we are helping more vulnerable people in our community than we have ever done before. Our food parcel support, prescription delivery service in partnership with Abersychan Pharmacy and the friendly phone call service have seen people are affected by this terrible pandemic needing us more now than ever. 
The bad news is that the money we use to deliver these services and with the shop closures has dried up almost overnight. 

The COVID-19 emergency has created a massive challenge for the Garnsychan Partnership to ensure that we are able to continue to support people in our ward. In the 6 years of me working at the Charity, I have never known a year like it. In all of the highs and lows during these years, it has never been this tough. The NHS and health care provisions and all the other essential workers (who I have the pleasure of working with many on a daily basis) are doing an amazing job with the coronavirus crisis. My weekly Thursday routine of an 8pm Clap, just doesn’t seem enough!

The Garnsychan Partnership is playing a very small part in the battle of Coronavirus. It’s humbling to know that some of the our support services are seeing a real impact on those elderly (especially) who are shielding or self isolating and the feedback and letters of thanks makes all of the hard work worthwhile. Many of our team have had to be furloughed and others redeployed which means we are a skeleton workforce currently working at a high demand. I want to give thanks to Torfaen County Borough Council who have been instrumental in supporting us through food donations and Ceri and Trina from the Communities for Work team who carry out shopping for us twice weekly to keep the food parcels well stocked. 
But mostly to our wonderful duo at Garnsychan Partnership, Gary and Paul; they have been instrumental in coordinating and delivering these essential services, to taking the calls, collating data, delivery food and prescriptions (often on foot). They are TRULY AMAZING!!! 
And finally, the board of Trustees; they have been amazing support, guiding me and the charity through these very uncertain times. The board bring a wealth of knowledge and experience and I have certainly had to tap into those resources more now than ever. The board members are all volunteers and work tirelessly to help me lead the organisation. So, thank you! 

Every day, we are hearing from some of the 3000 people we have supported during Covid-19 who are frightened, scared and unsure how to interpret the advice from the Government and uncertain how much the information on social media can be trusted. Residents who have had treatment delayed, are struggling to find out about their treatment options, people are struggling with isolation and anxiety while shielding at home all need trusted information and advice. 

So people are turning to us. We have never experienced anything like this before. This is not going to go anywhere, anytime soon, and neither are we. 

We have seen a substantial increase in numbers of people contacting us for advice and support over these last 12 weeks, so much so the data we have collated really shows the need and importance of our work here at Garnsychan Partnership and I am proud that our Charity is here to carry out these vital services. 

But while one tap has been turned on to full, the other has been turned off. With Circulate Recycling closed we (apart from a local authority grant) receive no other external funding or income.  Lockdown stopped our most successful trading months of the year almost overnight. 

There is approx £750 million of government support. There are a huge number of charities competing for the same pot so the reality is it’s unlikely to make enough of a difference to every charity that needs help right now. That said, down to some hard slog, I have been successful in awarding the charity some short term funding to help cashflow from a variety of organisations. Thank you to TVA, Moondance Foundation, The National Lottery and Community Foundation Wales your funds are allowing us to continue providing essential services during very unprecedented times. However, this wont last long, so the funding application writing does not stop there. It is ever important that we find new ways of working to re-open our Furniture Recycling project for the longer term sustainability of Garnsychan Partnership but also to continue to support our service users who need access to affordable household items. 

The unprecedented number of people turning to the Garnsychan Partnership means we can’t dial down our support anytime soon. And when the world returns to normal our residents will still need us if not more.  So while we are in a serious situation, we are planning to tough this out so we will still be here for our residents, now, next year and beyond. 

Once again, thank you to all our partners, staff and volunteers. You are all hero’s! ‘

6th Annual Abersychan Ward Scarecrow Competition 2020

Abersychan Ward Community Councillors, Kay Arthur, Nick Byrne, Lynda Clarkson and Giles Davies are thrilled to throw their support behind the 6th Annual Scarecrow competition, taking place within the ward again this year.

One of the previous entries

Former Councillor and founder of the ward event Mrs Gwyneira Clark MBE, stated ‘that she is overjoyed that the Community Councillors are supporting the event this year and that the Millennium Hall Committee will be making this event a choose your own theme, but there will be a special prize, for a children’s entry to recognise a Key Worker that have supported us during these difficult times’.

Lock down rules will be adhered to and Scarecrows must be outside and on view.

Photographs along with location and adult or child category can be emailed to abersychanward@outlook.com

There will be no entry fees, and further details will be announced shortly.

Winners will be announced on Saturday July 25th.

So start crafting and let’s see some Scarecrows in the Ward soon!

Shielding people can meet others and exercise outdoors

New advice for those who are shielding has been issued today and comes into force tomorrow June 1.

“Shielding people can meet others and exercise outdoors

Changes to advice for people shielding from coronavirus are being introduced from Monday 1 June, Minister for Health and Social Services Vaughan Gething has announced today.

People who have been shielding can now take exercise outdoors and meet people from another household, as long as it takes place outdoors.

There are two changes to the advice for this group:

Outdoor exercise is unlimited, as long as individuals strictly follow social distancing rules and hygiene practices.


Those who are shielding can meet outside with people from another household – but should not go into another person’s house or share food with them.


There are no other changes being made to the advice for those who are shielding at this stage. People who are shielding should continue to follow all the other advice previously given.

They should not go shopping or attend work outside of home. They should continue to have food and medicine delivered to them.

This advice comes from Chief Medical Officer for Wales, Dr Frank Atherton, who said:

Risk can never be completely eliminated but we advise those shielding to exercise at times that are less busy, so the risk of contact with others is reduced.

“We have advised everyone in Wales to maintain social distance of 2 meters and keep good hygiene when meeting outdoors. For those who are shielding, strictly following these rules is vital.”

Minister for Health and Social Services, Vaughan Gething said:

I am pleased that so many have been shielding so diligently – not only protecting themselves but also helping to protect our NHS. We recognise how challenging these last few months, with minimal face-to-face contact with others, has been.

“I am incredibly proud of all those who have and continue to provide the vital support to enable people to shield. Our Local Authority partners, pharmacies, volunteers and major food retailers have all pulled together to make shielding possible.”

The Chief Medical Officer is continuing to develop his advice for shielding people after 15 June.

All who are shielding will receive a letter from the Chief Medical Officer for Wales in the coming fortnight setting out the next steps.”

The Head Gardener Winners Announced

Friday 29 May saw the penultimate of The Head Gardener Hairdressing Salon ‘Support Your Heroes’ craft competition as Councillor Giles Davies judged the entries on display at Garndiffaith.

There were 3 voucher prizes up for grabs.

1st Prize of £25 for under 16 years old

2nd Prize of £15 for Under 16 years old

And one £10 prize for over 16 years old

Councillor Giles Davies stated, ‘that he was very impressed by the quality of the artwork displayed and thrilled that Ms House – Davies had decided to run this competition, it was very difficult to choose a winner as the talent shown was unbelievably good’.

After much deliberation, the winners were chosen.

Zoe Powell won the adult category with her outstanding rainbow heart made with buttons and framed.

Adult Winning Entry

Mandie Jenkins, 13 won the Under 16 category with her cat in a mask.

Under 16, First Prize Winner

Calan & Kenzi Gould, 5 & 2 won Second Prize with their Rainbow Jelly Fish.

Second Prize, Under 16

Thank you to everyone who took part, the display can be seen at The Head Gardener, Stanley Road, Garndiffaith.

Stay local to keep Wales safe: changes to the lockdown announced

From Monday, 2 households in the same local area will be able to meet outdoors. In doing this, however, people must follow social distancing and strict hand hygiene practices to control the spread of the virus.

‘Local’ means not generally travelling more than 5 miles from home to reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading from one area to another.

The changes mean people can meet another household outdoors in their local area but all the other rules to protect people from coronavirus will stay in place for the time being.

Meeting outdoors is key as the science tells us the virus survives only for minutes outside but for hours on indoor surfaces.

The changes follow the third statutory review of the regulations by Welsh Ministers. The review is based on the latest scientific evidence from SAGE and the advice of the Chief Medical Officer for Wales.

Wales has passed the first peak of infection and rates are falling but the R rate remains at 0.8. Both SAGE and the World Health Organisation has advised changes should only be made one step at a time.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said:

We recognise what people have given up to help Wales slow the spread of coronavirus. I want to thank everyone for everything they have done – by sticking to the rules, we are all helping to protect each other and help our NHS respond to the pandemic.

We know people are missing seeing their family and friends – the latest evidence, which underpins this review, means we can make some changes, to enable people to meet again, if it is done outdoors and locally, and people continue to follow the social distancing guidance.

We are learning more about this virus every day and we know the risk of transmission is lower outdoors than indoors. That’s why, if we all remain 2 metres apart, 2 households will be able to meet outdoors, including in private gardens.

However, a lower risk doesn’t mean no risk. Even in these circumstances it is vital we all maintain social distancing so we can continue to tackle the spread of this virus.

Now and in the days and months ahead we all have a personal responsibility to make sure our actions don’t contribute to the spread of coronavirus. Please help keep Wales safe by staying local.

The changes to the regulations will come into force on Monday and include:

  • Allowing members of 2 separate households in the same local area to meet outdoors at any one time as long as they maintain social distancing. There is a low risk of infection if the 2 metre physical distancing rule is maintained while outdoors. This does not need to be the same people from the same household every time. ‘Local’ means not travelling more than 5 miles from home
  • The 2 households can meet in private outdoor spaces, such as gardens, but this comes with a higher risk of infection as people may have to pass through someone’s private home to reach a garden. The Welsh Government will provide guidance about the precautions which can be taken to minimise these risks
  • Allowing weddings and civil partnerships to take place if the bride or groom is terminally ill.

The need to stay local and not mix with others other than in certain circumstances will be subject to exceptions similar to those that currently apply. Guidance will be provided about what staying local means in different circumstances.

Beauty and tourist spots will remain closed.

The First Minister will today signal that non-essential retail businesses, which can comply with the physical distancing duty, should start to prepare to reopen over the next 3 weeks. A decision about whether non-essential retail will reopen will be taken at the next review on 18 June and will depend on the scientific and medical evidence.

At the next review, the Welsh Government will examine options for:

  • Re-opening non-essential retail
  • Increasing capacity for childcare and public transport to support a wider return to work
  • Facilitating moving house to boost the housing market
  • Re-opening outdoors sites, including outdoor markets, sports courts, outdoor showrooms, and outdoor museums
  • Re-opening facilities for non-professional elite athletes to train safely.

The First Minister added:

I am signalling to businesses across Wales that they may begin preparations to be ready to resume activity in these areas should the evidence support reopening.

This will allow us to restart activity as soon as possible if the conditions allow. We will continue to work closely with the public sector, trade unions, businesses, the third sector and others to achieve this”