Hope for English football club that faced being banned from having crowds because its stadium straddles Welsh border as Mark Drakeford says he is ‘sure’ there is a ‘pragmatic solution’
There is hope for a ‘pragmatic solution’ to the English football club that faced being banned from having crowds because its stadium straddles the Welsh border.
Chester FC is facing being driven out of business after Wales launched a Covid crackdown on it for breaking the nation’s crowd rules.
The National League North club’s Deva Stadium is on the border of England and Wales, with the front gates and main office in England but the pitch in Wales.
Mr Drakeford has announced that he will be in talks with Welsh Government officials, the club, police and local authority.
Most of Chester’s stadium is inside Wales but some of the main stand and the car park are in England. Sporting events in Wales currently have to be played behind closed doors
On Friday Wales doubled down on level two measures — which have been in place since Boxing day and include the rule of six, mandatory face masks in all indoor setting and a night club ban.
Professor Robert Dingwall, a former Government Covid adviser, said Omicron in Wales was ‘driving an increase which is not really being contained by these extra restrictions’.
Mr Drakeford told Sky’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday: ‘I’ve already asked my senior officials to have discussions today with the police, with the club, with the local authority that owns the ground, the Chester local authority.
‘I’m sure there is a sensible pragmatic solution here but doesn’t mean that the club is placed in jeopardy, but doesn’t result in the law being broken either.’
Chester’s home matches against Fylde and Telford on December 28 and January 2 were attended by crowds of 2,075 and 2,116 respectively.
The club, which considers itself England and has a registered address in England, are now seeking legal advice.
Chairman Andy Morris told the PA news agency last week: ‘As a club we rely on gate receipts. If the enforcement is we have to play behind closed doors, we are not a Welsh club, so we are not entitled to the financial support.
‘The entire future of the club could be in doubt. There is no financial support for English clubs playing behind closed doors at the moment. It could be the end of the club.
‘I don’t think there is any clear jurisdiction in terms of which rules apply but we have been acting within English legislation since the stadium was built in 1992.
‘While acknowledging the border runs through the stadium, the club, for 30 years, has been treated as English with the registered address in England.’
Official data show Covid cases in Wales and Scotland are increasing faster than in England despite the nations’ harsher restrictions
Chester have been told they may have to play matches behind closed doors following a potential breach of Welsh Covid rules
A QUARTER of teachers could be isolating or sick when all schools and colleges re-open
Up to a quarter of all school staff could take time off next week due to sickness or Covid isolation, education unions have warned.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told BBC Breakfast on Saturday that the government is bracing for potential school staff sickness rates to skyrocket in the coming weeks.
Mr Barton told viewers there was a ‘mixed picture’ of how Covid-related absences were affecting schools in 2022, and warned absences could skyrocket as more schools and colleges reopen next week.
Mr Barton also reserved praise for the resilience shown by schoolchildren: ‘It’s almost like those evacuees of the Second World War thinking ‘Look what we did, look what we achieved but what we learned through that’.
‘We were part of this Covid generation. I think all credit to those young people, and all the staff in school.
It comes as unions yesterday revealed more than a third of schools currently have at least one in 10 teachers absent due to Covid reasons, as some students refuse to wear masks in class or take tests.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, said schools so far are largely managing staff absences well, but that education chiefs have warned of trickier times ahead.
A survey by the union found one in three school leaders are experiencing staff absence levels of over 10% as a result of soaring Omicron cases.
A majority (95 percent ) have at least some pupils off for Covid-related reasons at the start of term — and 29 per cent said they had more than 10 per cent of their students absent.
Chester FC chairman Andy Morris told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘In the last couple of days, we’ve been contacted by Flintshire Council on the request of the Welsh Government, and they’re the people who now have said it’s a concern.
‘But for the rationale of why this has come about, I’m not really sure as to why it has become an issue.
‘It hasn’t been for the last two years whilst we wrestled through Covid, we haven’t had access to any Welsh Government support, Welsh funding or anything like that, yet all of a sudden we seem to have become a political football.’
He continued: ‘We are a fan-owned club, so the way we operate is financially sustainable.
‘We don’t operate with debt, we can’t take on loans, we don’t have an overdraft, we don’t do anything like that.
‘So we rely on match day incomes, it’s one of our most valuable sources of income.
‘So what we’re finding now is if we are forced to play behind closed doors for a sustained period of time, that could mean the end of the football club.
‘It’s a really serious situation and it’s one that can’t be taken lightly.’
The club has announced it has been informed by authorities of the potential breaches and that it risks more by hosting further games in front of fans.
A statement from the club on Friday read: ‘This morning Chester Football Club was invited to a meeting with representatives of North Wales Police, Flintshire County Council, Cheshire Police and Cheshire West & Chester Council.
‘During this meeting, the club was given a joint letter on behalf of North Wales Police and Flintshire County Council which outlines potential breaches of Welsh coronavirus regulations at our fixtures on December 28, 2021 and January 2, 2022.
‘It also states the club may commit further potential breaches if it continues to play home fixtures with crowds while the current restrictions in Wales remain in place.
‘We were informed this was based upon direction from the Welsh government that the premises of Chester Football Club are governed by the Welsh regulations. The Welsh government was not represented at the meeting.
NHS figures released today show there were 13,045 beds occupied by coronavirus sufferers on January 4, of which 4,845 were not mainly sick with the disease. It means only six in 10 inpatients are primarily ill with Covid now compared to more than 80 per cent with Delta
Experts say there is reason to believe that incidentals will continue to rise as the variant pushes England’s infection rates to record highs, with one in 15 people estimated to have had Covid on New Year’s Eve
The share of so-called ‘incidental’ cases was even bigger in Omicron hotspot London , where 45 per cent of ‘Covid patients’ were not primarily in hospital for the virus
Pictured above is the % change in infection rates in England over the week to December 26 (left), and January 2 (right)
Chester, who play in the sixth-tier National League North, are seeking legal advice. Pictured: The gates are closed at the Deva Stadium, home of Chester City Football Club
The North of England sees a ‘concerning Omicron rise
The north-east and north-west of England are seeing ‘concerning’ rates of the Omicron variant, an expert has said, amid worries over healthcare staffing and a spike in hospital admissions.
Figures showed that three of the five UK areas with the biggest week-on-week rises in Covid case rates are Middlesbrough (748.8 to 2,651.4), Copeland (1,731.3 to 3,525.8) and Redcar & Cleveland (846.8 to 2,564.3).
Dr Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick and a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (Spi-M) highlighted these regions, along with the Midlands, as areas of concern.
He said cases in London are ‘slowing down’, but scientists need two weeks to see if this continues.
Dr Tildesley told Times Radio on Saturday: ‘Most other parts of the country are about two to three weeks behind where London is in their epidemic profile.
‘Particularly concerning is the North East and the North West – if you look at hospital admissions in those two regions they are going up, also the Midlands, where I live, that’s also a little bit concerning, so it is a worry.
‘On the slightly more positive side, so it doesn’t sound all doom and gloom, what we are seeing from hospital admissions is that stays in hospital do appear to be on average shorter, which is good news, symptoms appear to be a little bit milder, so this is what we are seeing consistently with the Omicron variant.’
In the Midlands, Northamptonshire leaders declared a system-wide major incident on Friday due to Covid-19.
Northamptonshire Local Resilience Forum, which is made up of NHS organisations, local authorities, Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service and Northamptonshire Police, issued the alert due to ‘rising demand on services and staffing levels’.
‘It was agreed that all parties would seek further legal advice given the complex issues and future implications of any outcome.’
Professor Dingwall told The Daily Telegraph: ‘What I think can be reasonably said is that all of the extra interventions put in place by the Welsh government really do not seem to have had any impact.’
He added that cases are soaring in parts of France ‘which have a lot more restrictions, but are also having big waves of Covid, especially in the major cities.
He said: ‘Omicron is so infectious that actually nothing you do makes much difference’.
But Mr Drakeford branded England an international ‘outlier’ in resisting tighter curbs and accused the PM of overseeing a ‘politically paralysed’ administration that had tied his hands.
He used a press conference to insist that Wales’ tough Covid restrictions on bars and mass events must stay in place due to an Omicron ‘storm’ breaking over the nation.
As the rest of the UK eases restrictions he warned of ‘a difficult month ahead’, despite admitting that the variant may not be as severe as previous waves.
But then, in a rant at Mr Johnson, he added: ‘In England, we have a Government that is politically paralysed, with a Prime Minister who is unable to secure an agreement through his Cabinet to take the actions that his advisers have been telling him ought to have been taken.
‘And even if he could get his Cabinet to address them, he can’t get his MPs to agree them.
‘The outlier here is not Wales. Wales is taking action, as is Scotland, as is Northern Ireland, and as are countries right across Europe, and right across the globe.
‘The one country that stands out as not taking action to protect its population is England.’
Indoor events of more than 30 people or outdoors events for more than 50 people are not allowed in Wales.
The Government said it is also encouraging people to take extra steps to keep safe including limiting the number of people they meet who they do not live with, to flow before you go, and meeting people outdoors wherever possible or in well-ventilated spaces.
Anyone who tests positive must self-isolate for seven days. They should then take a lateral flow test on day six and day seven. If either test is positive they should remain in isolation until two negative lateral flow tests or after day 10, whichever is sooner.
Confirmatory PCR tests for asymptomatic Covid sufferers have been scrapped from Thursday, health minister Eluned Morgan announced this week.
Unvaccinated contacts of positive cases who are self-isolating for 10 days will now be asked to take a lateral flow test on day two and eight instead of a PCR test.
PCR tests for fully vaccinated travellers and under 18s will also end between January 7 and 9 bringing the country in line with the rest of the UK.
The above are the 25 areas with the highest Covid infection rates in England. In London, Havering has the biggest outbreak but nationally it is the 38th highest Covid infection rate
Graph shows: Covid infection rates across England’s regions up to January 2, Department of Health data shows
Map shows: vaccine uptake across England’s 300-plus local areas, with darker colours indicating a higher proportion of the population that has got a booster. Uptake is lowest in London
Britons DON’T need a fourth jab… yet: Health chiefs say booster doses are working against Omicron
A fourth Covid jab is not yet needed, according to British health officials, because booster jabs are continuing to provide high levels of protection against severe disease from the Omicron coronavirus variant among older adults.
Around three months after receiving a third jab, protection against hospitalisation among those aged 65 and over remained at about 90%, the UK Health Security Agency said.
Protection against mild symptomatic infection of the variant, however, is down to about 30% after three months, according to the latest data.
Figures also show the importance of the booster jab as, with just two vaccines doses, protection drops to 70% after three months and down to 50% after six months.
Taking this data into account, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has advised the Government against giving a second booster dose, or fourth jab, to care home residents and those aged over 80.
It added that priority should continue to be given to rolling out the first booster dose, and that unvaccinated people should come forward for their first two doses as soon as possible.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, the JCVI’s chair of COVID-19 immunisation, said the latest data is ‘highly encouraging and emphasises the value of a booster jab’.
She added: ‘The current data show the booster dose is continuing to provide high levels of protection against severe disease, even for the most vulnerable older age groups.
‘For this reason, the committee has concluded there is no immediate need to introduce a second booster dose, though this will continue to be reviewed.
‘The data is highly encouraging and emphasises the value of a booster jab.
‘With Omicron continuing to spread widely, I encourage everyone to come forward for their booster dose or, if unvaccinated, for their first two doses, to increase their protection against serious illness.’
People will instead need to take a lateral flow test (LFD) on day two and, if positive, a follow-up PCR test to enable genomic sequencing to be carried out.
There will also be no need to self-isolate until a negative test has been received. The requirements for non-vaccinated travellers remain unchanged.
Mr Drakeford said 994 people with Covid are being treated in Welsh hospitals — a rise of 43 per cent compared with last week and the highest number since last March — while around 40 are in critical care, the majority of whom are unvaccinated.
He said Omicron is putting significant pressure on the NHS, due to rising hospital admissions and staff absences, but denied it is ‘overwhelmed’.
The latest data from Public Health Wales shows another 38 people have died from coronavirus. However, Mr Drakeford said those are likely to have been from the Delta variant.
Meanwhile, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (Spi-M) said the North East and North West of England are seeing the most ‘concerning’ rates of the Omicron variant.
Dr Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick, told Times Radio that cases are ‘slowing down’ in London but scientists need two weeks to see if this continues.
He added: ‘Most other parts of the country are about two to three weeks behind where London is in their epidemic profile.
‘Particularly concerning is the North East and the North West — if you look at hospital admissions in those two regions they are going up, also the Midlands, where I live, that’s also a little bit concerning, so it is a worry.
‘On the slightly more positive side, so it doesn’t sound all doom and gloom, what we are seeing from hospital admissions is that stays in hospital do appear to be on average shorter, which is good news, symptoms appear to be a little bit milder, so this what we are seeing consistently with the Omicron variant.’
Dr Tildesley said the Omicron variant could make Covid endemic.
He said: ‘The thing that might happen in the future is you may see the emergence of a new variant that is less severe, and ultimately, in the long term, what happens is Covid becomes endemic and you have a less severe version.
‘It’s very similar to the common cold that we’ve lived with for many years.
‘We’re not quite there yet but possibly Omicron is the first ray of light there that suggests that may happen in the longer term.
‘It is, of course, much more transmissible than Delta was, which is concerning, but much less severe.
‘Hopefully, as we move more towards the spring and we see the back of Omicron, we can get more inter-relationship of living with Covid as an endemic disease and protecting the vulnerable.
‘Any variant that does emerge which is less severe, ultimately, in the longer term, is where we want to be.’