Wales’ top medical expert has been speaking about the current surge in coronavirus cases in Wales, saying that people should social distance and wear face coverings in crowded places to prevent transmission. There is no indication that restrictions will be imposed in Wales, but Dr Frank Atherton urged people with any respiratory infections to self isolate.
There has been a rise in cases with the most recent Office for National Statistics survey reporting an increase in cases across the UK. An estimated one in 45 people in Wales currently has Covid-19. The latest figures are due out at lunchtime on Friday, June 24, and are expected to show a further rise.
But Dr Atherton says that while there are seeing an “increased” number of patients coming into hospital for treatment, there has not been an increase in intensive care units or in the number of people dying.
The emergence of the BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants is the main contributing factor behind the increase as they become more dominant across the UK, and similar patterns have been seen in France, Germany and Portugal.
Speaking to BBC Radio Wales, Dr Atherton said: “Whenever we have these surges, and I do anticipate there’ll be further ones in the future, we should go back to some of those things that we know prevent transmission, so social distancing, face coverings in crowded places, making sure that if we have symptoms of any respiratory infection that we self isolate, all of those things will help us break the chains of transmission.”
His comments come as it was announced that Wales is extending its access to free lateral flow device (LFD) tests until the end of July due to the rising cases. Health minister Eluned Morgan has confirmed that free tests will remain available in Wales until July 31. Read more of the statement here.
Explaining why, Dr Atherton said: “Ministers here are quite clear that they prefer to remove protections and to make easements to the situation when we’re on the downward tick.
“So, when we’re on a rise of community infection, when rates are actually going up, and people are coming to more serious harm that’s the time really to delay those changes. And that’s really why we’ve decided in Wales to continue with the testing for people who are symptomatic with coronavirus symptoms for a another month.”
The tests will be available to the public that are showing symptoms of coronavirus – such as a high temperature, a new continuous cough, or a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste – alongside free access for people visiting someone eligible for new Covid-19 treatments.
The health minister said: “Testing has been an effective tool in breaking the chain of transmission and with an increase in cases it’s vital that we keep testing in place to protect the most vulnerable in our society. As we have seen before Covid can quickly change I am announcing this extension in response to the changing picture and new variants of concern.
“I would also ask people to take protective measures to protect the more vulnerable in the community, wear masks in health and care settings, stay at home if you test positive, and take up the offer for the vaccine. We know that the vaccine is the best way to protect yourself.
“Covid has not gone away. Whilst we are learning to live safely with it we will continue to monitor the situation and as we have done for the last two years we will work together to keep Wales safe.”
Meanwhile, some local health boards in Wales have changed the rules surrounding mask wearing this week.
Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, which covers the Gwent area, announced in a statement on June 21 that wearing face masks in hospitals have been reintroduced.
A statement from Cardiff and Vale University Health Board said: “Due to the rising prevalence of Covid-19 in our communities, we strongly encourage healthcare staff and visitors to wear a face covering in all of our settings, particularly in clinical areas and those with high footfall. Please exercise a common-sense approach and personal responsibility to help us reduce the impact of COVID-19 on our patients, workforce and services. In addition to wearing a face covering, it is important to continue to maintain social distancing where possible. .”
Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board has also changed the rules for the Royal Glamorgan Hospital in Llantrisant and Ysbyty Cwm Rhonnda.