Covid: Teachers not key workers in some counties

Unions have hit back at decisions from some councils in Wales to deny childcare to certain groups of key workers.

The Welsh Government compiled a list of jobs deemed critical at the beginning of the Covid pandemic, which was provided to local authorities.

However, some councils compiled their own lists which do not include jobs such as food workers and teachers.

Teaching union Nasuwt said it was “nonsensical”.

Schools will stay closed to most pupils until the February half term unless there is a “significant” fall in Covid cases, with childcare provided to vulnerable children and the children of key workers.

According to the Welsh Government guidance, local authorities “must have regard to the list” when deciding who is a critical worker, but every child who can be safely cared for at home should be.

The shop worker union Usdaw said it was crucial food workers should be able to access the childcare so stores can stay open, and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) said childcare provision had become a “postcode lottery”.

While many councils confirmed to BBC Wales that they were following the Welsh Government’s list, others said they did not define some of the roles included as essential.

Ceredigion council’s list only includes front-line workers for the care and health sector and blue light services – just two of the Welsh Government’s list of seven groups.

A spokeswoman said: “In accordance to the guidance, Ceredigion has taken due regard of the Welsh Government list of critical workers.”

Carmarthenshire council included school staff but not food, utilities, communication or transport workers – however, it does include its own front-line staff.

It said the Welsh Government’s list was “advisory” and local authorities were advised to reflect on types of employment and associated impacts in their area.

Rhondda Cynon Taf, Bridgend and Vale of Glamorgan included childcare and education staff – but not food, transport, utilities or council workers, or communication workers such as public service journalists providing Covid-19 coverage.

A Bridgend council spokesman said: “There are limited spaces available at schools due to the need to maintain small class bubbles, ensure teaching staff are able to continue to provide online learning for learners at home and cover for any staff sickness.”

He added if it became possible to extend the support to more workers, the council would do so.

Swansea, Gwynedd, Torfaen, Pembrokeshire, Newport, Flintshire, Monmouthshire, Powys, Caerphilly, Conwy, Merthyr Tydfil and Cardiff all said they are following the Welsh Government’s list of key workers in allocating childcare, with Cardiff and Merthyr prioritising the children of parents in NHS, blue light, education and social care if there were any shortages.

Blaenau Gwent, Wrexham, Neath Port Talbot, Anglesey and Denbighshire councils did not provide details of their key worker provisions when asked by the BBC.

Neil Butler, national official for Wales at teaching union Nasuwt, said: “As front-line workers delivering an essential service, teachers and other school staff are classed as key workers.

“Schools are not closed during the lockdown, they remain open for a limited number of pupils and therefore many teachers and other school staff will still be required to attend their workplace during this time.

“If their own children are not allowed to attend their school many teachers and members of the school workforce will be left unable to provide this essential provision to the children of other key workers.”

Mr Butler called on councils to “immediately reconsider their position”.

“This decision by some councils is nonsensical and will undermine the ability of schools to continue to play their essential role in supporting the fight against Covid-19.”

TUC general secretary Shavanah Taj said: “It’s very concerning that some councils are not making provision of essential services like childcare available to the full list of critical workers.

“It isn’t fair that just because someone works in a supermarket or a food processing plant, they could then face a postcode lottery in terms of whether then can access certain services.

“And when it comes to childcare and the groups of workers negatively impacted by this, lower-paid women workers are likely to be disadvantaged the most. This must be looked at again to make sure that there is a fair offer throughout Wales.”

One teacher, who did not wish to be named, said she could not access key worker childcare due to her local council not counting her role as essential.

“People forget we have kids too,” she said.

“We’ve been told teachers don’t qualify for hub schools, but we have to give live online lessons. That’s not possible with small children.”

Nick Ireland from shop worker union Usdaw said retail staff being recognised as key workers by the Welsh Government had been welcomed.

“That should be reflected in access to childcare while they are at work and there needs to be a consistent provision across the nation,” he said.

“With schools closed to all but vulnerable and key workers’ children, it is crucial that our members working in stores, retail distribution and delivery drivers are able to access childcare services so that food shops can remain open.”

Covid: Aberfan survivor Bernard Thomas dies, aged 63

A survivor of the Aberfan disaster has died after contracting Covid-19.

As a nine-year-old Bernard Thomas was rescued from the rubble of Pantglas primary school after one of the biggest tragedies in Welsh history.

A total of 144 people were killed in the disaster on 21 October, 1966, after thousands of tonnes of coal slurry slid from a tip. Of those 116 were primary school pupils.

Later Bernard was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress.

He told S4C he “still heard the sounds of children screaming.”

Paying tribute to Mr Thomas, 63, who died on Wednesday, his brother Andrew told BBC’s Newyddion: “Bernard was a real character and his death has come as a shock to us as a family and the community of Aberfan.”

“We can’t be sure where he caught Covid, but he had an eye appointment at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital on 21 December.

“A few days later, he became ill and at Prince Charles Hospital, he tested positive for Covid-19.”

“Although he had been receiving oxygen through a mask, we spoke regularly on the phone and he told us he was getting better.

“But on Wednesday morning he removed his mask to eat his breakfast, and 10 minutes after eating he faded away.”

“It’s a huge shock but I don’t blame anybody.”

On the 50th anniversary of the disaster Bernard told the BBC: “I still wonder what the others would have been doing if it hadn’t happened. Who would have got married to who, you know.”

Bernard is survived by his 90-year-old mother Gwen, with whom he shared a home, and brothers Andrew and Robert.

Warnings ignored as cars turned away from Welsh beauty spot

People are “blatantly” ignoring rules on lockdown restrictions despite repeated warnings, police have said.

More than 100 cars had been turned away from Moel Famau on the Flintshire border by Saturday lunchtime, with some driving past “road closed” signs.

In Snowdonia, Gwynedd, a warden said a group from Leicester would have “probably ignored our advice” if police had not arrived and told them to leave.

Level four restrictions mean travelling for exercise is not allowed.

Keith Ellis, a warden at Pen y Pass in Snowdonia, said while it had been much quieter this weekend, people were still travelling, despite the restrictions.

“We’ve had three from Leicester first thing this morning and if the police hadn’t turned up they would have probably ignored our advice and carried on up the mountain,” he said.

“What they were wearing was totally inappropriate and they would have probably got into danger.

“We’ve had people also from Liverpool and some locals turning up knowing full well what the rules are, but just trying it on.

“Luckily there are a lot more police officers around and all these people have been spoken to and advised by the police as well.”

A Welsh Government spokesman said: “Cases of coronavirus are very high in Wales at the moment and there is a new strain of the virus circulating, which is highly infectious and moving quickly.

“At alert level four, exercise should always be undertaken from home, unless you have special circumstances which requires some flexibility – such as disability or autism.

“The more people gather, the greater the risk of spreading or catching the virus.”

Covid-19: Non-urgent operations stopped in Worcestershire

All non-urgent operations have been stopped at hospitals in Worcestershire due to a “significant increase” in Covid-19 cases.

The temporary measure was introduced by Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust after a rise in infections among patients and the community.

Planned non-urgent procedures were stopped to tackle an increase in emergency or urgent treatments.

The trust has apologised to those affected and their families.

It manages the Alexandra, Kidderminster and Worcestershire Royal hospitals.

There were 716.2 cases per 100,000 in Worcester in the seven days to 4 January, latest figures show.

Chief executive Matthew Hopkins said the number of in-patients who have tested positive had increased in-line with the “steep rise” in community infection rates, which placed more pressure on local NHS resources.

“Our hospital continues to prioritise people needing urgent care including those with cancer, while staff across all our hospitals are doing a magnificent job in working to put patients first,” he said.

Cancelled appointments will be rebooked as soon as possible, the trust added.

Happy Mondays star Bez in bid to rival Joe Wicks with lockdown fitness classes

Happy Mondays star Bez is to launch his own lockdown fitness classes to inspire the nation like Joe Wicks.

The former maraca-shaking dancer, 56, wants to rival Joe Wicks with his online YouTube classes “Get Buzzin’ With Bez” to be launched on 17 January.

Bez, whose on-stage “freaky dancing” made him an icon of the ‘Madchester’ music scene, has admitted he also wants to budge his own lockdown bulge.

He won Celebrity Big Brother in 2005 and even made a bid to become an MP.

Bez, whose real name is Mark Berry, said: “I’d like to think I’m somewhere between Joe Wicks and Mr Motivator.

“I’ve started this new year seriously unfit, with a fat belly and creaky hips, and I can’t stop eating chocolate.

“Last lockdown I got unfit, fat, lazy and into some seriously bad eating habits.

“This year, this lockdown, I need to sort it out sharpish.”

He said that people can join him on “on this mad journey or just sit on the sofa and have a good laugh at me”.

The former dancer added: “At the very least, I know I’ll be making people smile, at best I’ll be helping people get fit and mentally happier alongside me.”

The Happy Mondays, along with bands like The Stone Roses and Inspiral Carpets, spearheaded the indie music ‘Madchester’ scene of the late 80s and early 90s.

Bez’s bug-eyed dance routines were said to have inspired the group’s song Freaky Dancin’ and made him one of the best-known members of the group, alongside frontman Shaun Ryder.

Their hits included Step On, Kinky Afro, Hallelujah and 24 Hour Party People.

However, serious drug habits and infighting led to the Salford band’s breakup in 1993.

Police arrest 12 at Clapham Common anti-lockdown protest

Twelve people have been arrested during an anti-lockdown protest in south London.

Police officers clashed with some of the maskless protestors who arrived in Clapham Common, some shouting “take your freedom back”.

Six police vans were deployed to the scene while officers moved crowds away from the area.

Gathering for the purpose of a protest is not an exemption to the rules, the Met Police said.

One woman shouted from her car at the protestors “there’s a pandemic going”, while another bystander shouted “idiots”.

One anti-lockdown protestor, who was detained at Clapham Common park, said “I stand under common law, not maritime law and this is assault” as he was put into handcuffs by police officers.

A large police presence remains around Clapham Common station, but almost all protesters had left the area as of 14:00 GMT.

It comes as a “major incident” was declared as the spread of Covid-19 threatens to “overwhelm” London hospitals.

City Hall said Covid-19 cases in the capital had exceeded 1,000 per 100,000, while there were 35% more people in hospital with the virus than in the peak of the pandemic in April.