Covid: Christmas restrictions warning if Wales cases rise

Covid: Christmas restrictions warning if Wales cases rise

People in Wales have been warned they risk facing strict Christmas measures if Covid-19 infection rates surge.

First Minister Mark Drakeford has called for people not to “fritter away” lockdown “success” after seeing the “first signs” of the firebreak working.

But if Covid cases rise, then people will not have extra Christmas freedoms, he added.

“Our top priority has to be dealing with the a public health emergency,” Mr Drakeford said.

“If our hospitals are overwhelmed then we will not be able to have the Christmas we would all like – people’s lives and people’s health come first.

“Our aim is to to deal with a public health emergency and offer people people additional flexibilities over Christmas.

“I hope we won’t come to choosing between the two but it’s a straightforward answer – as if we had to – it’s people health and the ability of the NHS to respond to people needs will have to come first.”

The UK’s four nations – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – are trying to work out a common approach to Christmas so families across the UK can still spend time together.

Mr Drakeford and the UK’s other leaders met Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove on Wednesday and will meet again next Wednesday to agree a “common plan to provide people with new flexibilities over Christmas”.

But he called on people to “act responsibility and sustain the benefit” of the firebreak or risk more pre-Christmas – or possibility even festive season – lockdown restrictions.

“Our aim was to get a path through to Christmas,” said he said.

Wales’ 17-day firebreak ended on 9 November and Mr Drakeford told BBC Radio Wales that the chief medical officer’s analysis said the evidence was now “good enough” that it did “succeed”.

He said the amount of people with coronavirus in hospital was “stabilising” and the R number in Wales last week “could have been below one”.

“What we need to see is incidence in the community falling and that translating into falling numbers of people in hospital or needing critical care,” he added.

“We’re seeing the first signs of the growth of people in hospital beds reducing and bed numbers stabilising.

“What we have to do is build on that and make sure we don’t fritter all that away by going back to the behaving in ways that will drive those numbers back up again.”

More than 3,000 people have died in Wales with Covid-19 while Public Health Wales said there were 1,048 new cases in the past 24 hours – with almost 70,000 in Wales having had the virus.

After Wales’ firebreak ended, restaurants, pubs, gyms all reopened and infection rates has generally fallen over the past week in most places.

The south Wales valleys are currently dominating for highest case rates as Blaenau Gwent has seen a rise in cases.

It has pushed ahead of Merthyr Tydfil, with a rate of 356.4 cases per 100,000 people, with Sirhowy currently showing the highest local case rate in Wales (607.7 per 100,000).

Infection rates in Caerphilly are also starting to rise and are just behind Merthyr Tydfil – about 250 cases per 100,000 people – which was once the hardest-hit area in the UK.

“Cases per 100,000 have fallen every for the last 10 days,” Mr Drakeford told BBC Radio 4.

“We have seen incidence rates going down and positivity rates going down. At the height, Merthyr had an incidence rate of 760 cases per 100,000 of the population now it is down below 260.

“So our assessment is that the firebreak has done what we hoped it would do.

“We are hoping that will continue for a bit longer. Our aim is to persuade people in Wales to act responsibly and sensibility now so that we sustain the benefit of the firebreak as long as we can.”

Across the UK, there have been more than 1.4 million positive tests and more than 53,000 deaths – with almost 23,000 confirmed cases in the past 24 hours.

The Welsh public have already been warned more restrictions were “inevitable” if the current regulations cannot keep coronavirus cases down.

Public Health Wales’ outbreak response director Giri Shankar said the firebreak lockdown halted the rapid surge of Covid cases – but it was not yet known if the action has been enough.

From Saturday, all people working and living in Merthyr Tydfil will be offered a Covid test.

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