Lockdown lift could ‘risk a resurgence’ of coronavirus in Wales as curve ‘flattens’
The chief medical officer (CMO) of Wales has warned that there could be a “resurgence of coronavirus circulation” if lockdown measures are lifted too soon.
Speaking at the daily Welsh Government press conference, CMO Frank Atherton said that Wales is seeing some improvement in the figures that are used to monitor how the epidemic is unfolding.
This includes a reduction in the number of cases of coronavirus and a drop in the number of admissions to hospital and into intensive care units.
He added that whilst there are still “some deaths unfortunately here in Wales”, the trend itself is showing the numbers “flattening” – however not dropping.
Mr Atherton said: “That’s all good news and it shows that the public of Wales are really taking social distancing measures, hand hygiene and basic hygiene measures and the lockdown measures very seriously.
“It matters to the NHS because we’ve been trying in this epidemic to make sure that we do not exceed the capacity of our NHS to cope with the burden of disease which coronavirus is sadly bringing to our population.”
“Although our virus transmission in the community we has reduced over recent days as a consequence of those measures, there are specific areas that we do really worry about as the Welsh Government and as the NHS.
“Particularly it’s closed settings where the virus can transmit and we know what those are, of course, hospitals.
“We are worried about transmission and circulation of virus in our hospitals and we’re also worried about the circulation of the virus particularly in our care homes – on which there’s been a lot of media attention and public questioning.”
However the CMO awarned that although the curve has been “squashed”, there could be a second wave of the virus if the lockdown measures and social distancing restrictions were lifted too soon.
To help prevent this from happening, Mr Atherton said that certain procedures will need to be in place.
He said: “The First Minister last Friday, put out his framework for the easement of social distancing measures and lockdown measures here in Wales, and as part of that I had conversations with the First Minister and outlined a number of things which I think needs to be in place in order to guide us through that process.
“The first is that we need to have much better surveillance, a much better understanding of how the virus is circulating, how it’s moving around in our populations and in those closed settings that I’ve been talking about.
“The second thing is as the numbers come down we need to have a better mechanism for tracking and tracing, and I know all nations are looking to develop systems and processes around that and Wales cannot be the exception.
“We need to have a clear model that we can adapt and learn as we go as to how we will identify cases and track them using a combination of digital means and old fashioned public health shoe leather and contact tracing.
“The third thing we really need to do here in Wales is to watch internationally what is happening in other countries as they start to to lift their measures, and we’re starting to see that. I want us to be systematic in that.”
Earlier this month First Minister Mark Drakeford had warned that the virus would spread from south to north and from east to west – causing a delayed peak of COVID-19 in different parts of Wales.
Asked today if he believed that cases would peak at different times, Mr Atherton said that pattern of movement is “much less obvious now” due to the stricter lockdown measures being introduced across the UK on March 23rd.
In terms of whether or not Wales had already seen a “peak” of new cases or if it could come later in the summer as initially suggested, Mr Atherton said: “It looked like we were on a period of exponential growth and we saw a peak that would have been into May, June, July, somewhere in that that kind of in that range.
“We talked about flattening the curve so that we didn’t exceed the capacity of the NHS.
“In fact, our measures in Wales, and in the UK have done more than flatten the curve, they have actually squashed the curve and so the numbers are much less than we expected and that’s why the peak has come earlier than we anticipated.
“The height of the peak and the number of cases, ICU admissions and deaths has been less than that’s obviously a good thing.
“The downside of that is that by squashing the curve we risk a resurgence of the disease if we lift our measures too soon.”
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