Neath Port Talbot ‘moving into recovery’ but prepared for a second wave of coronavirus

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Neath Port Talbot Council’s Leader said while lockdown restrictions are being lifted across the borough, the council is prepared for a second wave of Covid-19.

Councillor Rob Jones said although the borough is beginning to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, the local authority is prepared for the possibility of another outbreak of coronavirus.

He said: “We’re not at recovery yet but we’re moving into recovery.

“With the winter pressures coming on we do anticipate that there could potentially be a second spike.”

Cllr Jones said seasonal illnesses like flu and pneumonia, which harm the respiratory system, can be worrying when accompanied by coronavirus.

“Covid attacks the respiratory problem, it can make people more susceptible and vulnerable to it.

“If we get into a local lockdown scenario, whether that’s an area within the county borough or the county borough itself, then we would literally have to revert to going back to March 23rd when there was a complete lockdown of an area.”

Cllr Jones said in the event of a localised outbreak, a mobile testing unit would be set up to avoid sending people to the local field hospital “in droves”.

If Neath Port Talbot went into a local lockdown, public facilities would be shut and schools would return to distance learning, he said.

“It is easy to close stuff. I’d put a chain around my parks and I’d put a padlock on them, I’d just lock the toilet doors and close the indoor markets.”

Certain decisions like travel restrictions would be up to the Welsh Government.

Cllr Jones said Neath Port Talbot has been communicating with the Welsh Government throughout the pandemic and there is “a very good, strong working relationship” between them.

“We are very fortunate in Wales that every week we meet with ministers.

“England haven’t got that. They have not got constant access to their ministers.

“They haven’t got a dialogue taking place.

“We are normally given quite a bit of notice of stuff that the Welsh Government is going to release within the lockdown.”

There were three new cases of coronavirus recorded in Wales on Monday August 03, with 669 cases in total, according to Public Health Wales.

There have been 102 coronavirus-related deaths recorded in the borough by July 17.

To keep on top of coronavirus cases in Neath Port Talbot, Cllr Jones said the Test Trace Protect programme could be in place for “at least a year, possibly two”.

This would require long-term staff arrangements, however, applications for jobs within the programme have been oversubscribed.

Every school in Neath Port Talbot has a “plan B” in the event of a second wave of Covid-19, according to Cllr Jones.

In line with Welsh Government guidelines, schools will reopen full-time in the borough from September.

“The reason why we’ve told them to plan a plan B is that we’ve got to anticipate that there’s going to be a second spike.

“We may not necessarily get spikes within schools but we may get spikes within communities where schools lie.

“Schools will be as safe as we can possibly make them but they’re never going to be risk free.”

Pupils who return to school in September will be encouraged to wash their hands on arrival in the morning and some lessons could be taught outside if schools are able to, said Cllr Jones.

In secondary schools, pupils in year 7 to 9 will be taught in the same classroom bubble throughout the day to avoid unnecessary movement and contact with other pupils.

This will not be the case for pupils in year 10 to 13 because of the varied subjects and lessons they undertake, according to Cllr Jones.

He said the “biggest logistical problem” for the council currently in terms of reopening schools is school transport.

To maintain social distancing, the council may need to introduce four times the amount of buses that it usually uses to take pupils to and from school.

Cllr Jones is also conscious of the risk that an outbreak in a school would pose to the wider community such as elderly relatives.

“Just because youngsters think that they’re immune to this and can’t catch it they can pass it on to others that are vulnerable.”

He doesn’t necessarily think there will be a second wave of coronavirus in the borough as soon as September but he warned that people are becoming “complacent” with lockdown rules.

“People are becoming so complacent the more and more we get relaxed.

“They can’t see the virus they are hearing less and less about infection and deaths from covid.

“They don’t feel that a) they will catch it and b) it’s still out there.”

Various lockdown restrictions have been lifted across Neath Port Talbot in recent weeks with further changes to come shortly.

Public toilets reopened from July 13, children’s playgrounds reopened on July 27 and cafes, restaurants, bars reopened indoors on August 03, following Welsh Government guidance.

Many of Neath Port Talbot’s leisure centres and swimming pools will reopen from Monday August 10.

Cllr Jones said the reopening of public toilets has been a success in the borough with people following social distancing.

“It’s been very good. People are respecting the regimes that are there. There is enhanced cleaning.”

He hopes people will continue to follow government guidelines.

“Social distancing is a personal responsibility even though it’s legislation.

“Some people will ignore it, some people will risk it and others will obey it.

“We can only do what we can do.

“There’s got to be a certain amount of responsibility taken by individuals and communities at large.”



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