“If there isn’t a change in behaviour, we could well be not just seven weeks away from a potential national lockdown, but potentially much quicker”
Health Minister Vaughan Gething has said Wales is effectively back in the position it was in during February, and the coming weeks will be crucial for dealing with the pandemic.
The Minister, speaking at the lunchtime briefing yesterday, said: “We may need to make choices within the next few weeks on a local level and potentially on a national level. We think we’re in an equivalent period of time now to the one we faced in early February. In early February, we faced the position where we didn’t have the range of knowledge we have now, but we went into a national lockdown in essentially the third week of March.
“So there’s a period of weeks for us to resolve some of the challenges we have. So, I appeal to people to reconsider the choices we’re making, who we’re seeing, how many people we’re seeing, because otherwise, we may need to make more local lockdown choices or potentially a national lockdown with all the interruption of that causes.”
The Minister was asked ‘Does that mean that were potentially seven weeks away from Coronavirus lockdown?’
He replied, “If there isn’t a change in behaviour, we could well be not just seven weeks away from a potential national lockdown, but potentially much quicker. If we see cases continue to rise, with the intelligence and information we have now, with a significant contact tracing we have, then we may be in a position to make that decision and need to make that decision sooner than the seven week period of time.”
Despite issues around people actually getting tested the Minister said there had been a ‘sharp rise’ in parts of south Wales adding, “There are many similarities between the rises in each of the areas, including socialising indoors and at home without social distancing, and imported cases from holiday travel.”
In parts of Wales the Minister said there had been ‘change in the pattern of infection’ with more people now testing positive aged in their 40s and 50s, and gave details that pointed to the issue in Caerphilly, “The the heart of it appears to be a party over the bank holiday weekend, which led to 18 new cases of Coronavirus, many of whom visited other venues on nights out.”
A range of new possible measures that could be used were mentioned, “We’re also updating our Coronavirus control plan to increase the range of measures that we have to respond to local outbreak. These include actions which have been introduced elsewhere in the UK, Ireland and further afield. These include the possible introduction of curfews, restricting alcohol sales, and changing pub operations, including the possibility of shorter opening hours, or only selling alcohol with food.”
One early analysis earlier this year was that the first wave of the pandemic hit Wales from east to west and south to north, with the Welsh Government Technical Advisory Cell reporting the initial spread into North Wales followed the “major routes from England …. from Chester and Liverpool”.
Last week Professor Van-Tam said current trends are moving away from specific hotspots, and there “is a more general and creeping geographic trend across the UK”. North.Wales asked the Minister about such trends, and is he seeing any geographic trend, and is it following the previous pattern?
The Health Minister said, “It’s broadly similar, but it’s a mixed picture. You’ve seen the hotspots in South Wales, we’ve seen a modest increase in some authorities within North Wales.
“We’re still at the point though, where despite being an equivalent of February, we can make difference in the spread of coronavirus and in protecting people from harm.
“We have seen in Cardiff a reduction in cases from a couple of weeks ago. So it is possible for all of us to make a real difference and that I think is really important. There is as I say, responsibility for the government and health services to make the right choices to protect people, but equally we all have individual responsibilities to protect the people around us and that people will come into contact with.”
The current weekly figures for inpatient confirmed cases in North Wales is similar as it was when lockdown began, however a month later was when we hit the peak. We asked the Health Minister of there was a similar quick rise here would he guarantee the country is equipped and won’t run out of resources such as PPE, oxygen or similar.
The Health Minister said, “We are in a better position than we were in in third week of March going into national lockdown. I recall those press conferences and very difficult days when it came to PPE provision. We’ve significantly restocked our provision for PPE, we have a range of orders still to come in, but we’re in a much better place now than previously.”
“Even with that additional assurance, it’s still the case that we don’t want our health and social care staff using even more significant amounts of PPE because we want to avoid more cases of COVID coming in to our health and care system. So again, it still goes back to even with that better provision, and the assurance of public should take from, it should not lead to risk taking behaviour and avoiding or ignoring the rules are in place.”
In his reply to us the Minister reiterated a message mentioned several times throughout the brief, perhaps suggesting issues surfacing: “I say, for the benefit of everyone, to protect everyone: Be honest with contact tracers, if you’re contacted, follow the rules on self isolation. Please make sure you follow the rules on limiting the number of contacts you’re having, because that is the way that we’ll get through this and minimize the harm that will otherwise take place right across the country.”
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