Posted: Fri 8th Oct 2021

Drakeford: Wales facing a challenging winter ahead with Covid and flu circulating fully at the same time

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Friday, Oct 8th, 2021

First Minister, Mark Drakeford, has said this winter will be more “complex” for the health service in Wales and will be “under pressure from a variety of directions.”

It will be the first winter Covid and flu circulate fully at the same time and health officials are concerned that the population will have lost much of its immunity to the flu virus, which dropped to extremely low levels under Covid restrictions.

Wales will remain at alert level zero for the next three weeks, following the latest review of the coronavirus regulations, despite the number of people falling ill with Covid in Wales “still too high” Mr Drakeford said.

Speaking to BBC Radio Wales this morning the first minister said however Covid cases “are beginning to come down.”

Asked if Wales had reached the peak of the Covid third wave, he said: “The model says to us that we should be coming down from the peak, we’ve been following the same pattern as we’ve seen in Scotland and if we continue to do that, then the chances are we have reached a peak and are now on a downward slope.”

But he said, “it’s early days, numbers have been going down only for the last four or five days.”

The Welsh government is planning for two scenarios this winter, the first, called “Covid Stable”, Wales remains at alert level zero through the autumn and winter, with all businesses able to open.

The second planning scenario, called Covid Urgent, is designed to deal with any sudden changes to the situation, caused by the emergence of a new, fast-spreading variant or if vaccine immunity levels fall, causing a rise in pandemic pressures, which risk overwhelming the NHS.

Mr Drakeford said the situation is “more complicated this year than last year. Early last year we were essentially planning around Coronavirus the health service was still dominated by that.”

“Today the health service is trying to do all the other things that we asked it to do and to catch up with some of the work it wasn’t able to do in the crisis.”

He said, “we are expecting flu to be in wider circulation this year than last year, so the flu vaccination season has started.”

“It is why planning for the winter is more complex because the health service will be under pressure from a variety of directions, and a relatively small rise in Coronavirus can have a bigger effect than would have been the case last year.”

“Our plan tries to take all of that into account and shows how we would respond if you’ve got that combination of pressures happening all at the same time.”

“We do have to take it into account there was very little flu in Wales last year, and there’s very little flu in Wales at the moment, thank goodness.”

So the [flu] vaccination program can get ahead of the flu season, it is very important that if people are being invited to have their flu vaccination that they go in and they take it because that really will help us all.”

“During this autumn, we don’t anticipate going back to the levels of restrictions we faced last year for flu reasons or for Coronavirus reasons.”

“That’s not what the model is telling us, but it is just sensible and responsible from a government perspective to plan for a range of eventualities.”

Mr Drakford will hold a press conference this lunchtime (Friday, 8 October) where more details of the winter plans will be revealed.

The flu virus can be deadly and typically results in dozens of admissions to critical care units across North Wales each year the regions health board has said.

Tens of thousands of people aged 50 and over will be called for a free flu vaccine for the first time.

Other priority groups include two and three-year-olds, health and care workers, and anyone with an underlying health condition.

Betsi Cadwaladr Executive Director of Public Health Teresa Owen said the NHS in North Wales again faced the prospect of an extraordinarily busy winter, with coronavirus circulating widely in the community.

“Because of a successful flu vaccination campaign and measures to control the spread of COVID-19 there were very few cases of flu in North Wales last winter,” she said.

“But, with the easing of restrictions over recent months, there is a real risk from flu this winter. With more of us are circulating and socialising, the flu virus has greater opportunity to spread.

“If you meet the criteria, the best thing you can do to stay healthy this winter is make sure you get both your free flu vaccine and your COVID booster. This will give you and your loved ones the best possible protection against both viruses, help to slow their spread, and help to protect the NHS.”


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