Posted: Mon 21st Dec 2020

Welsh Government briefing: Sample of new Covid-19 cases in North Wales found over 20% to be from new variant

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Monday, Dec 21st, 2020

Wales’ Deputy Chief Medical Officer has said 22% of samples in North Wales have demonstrated to come from the new coronavirus variant, and that is ‘increasing’. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Today Flintshire reported +86 new cases on the Public Health Wales dashboard update with an 18.2% positive proportion of tests, taking commonly used seven day rolling benchmark figure to 225 per 100,000. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Of the 22 councils in Wales, 15 have a higher rolling seven day infection rate figure than Flintshire, Merthyr Tydfil has the highest with 1269 per 100,000, Anglesey the lowest with 45 per 100,000. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

The seven day rate in neighbouring Wrexham has reached 445 per 100,000 while to the west of Flintshire, Denbighshire’s rolling seven day rate is 155 per 100,000 population. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

During today’s Welsh government briefing, first minister Mark Drakeford said:  “Today I had hoped to be looking forward to better times in 2021. Unfortunately, I need instead to talk to you about the latest challenge we are facing.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“As you will have heard over the last few days, a new mutated strain of coronavirus has been identified. It is much more infectious and it is moving quickly in Wales.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

The first minister was joined by the Deputy Chief Medical Officer (DCMO), Professor Chris Jones, he said: “The first thing to say is that all viruses can and do change.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“Genetic mutations are a natural phenomenon of viruses and the coronavirus is no different. We’ve seen a number of mutations since the SARS-COVID-2 virus was first identified in Wuhan just over a year ago and most of these mutations turn out to have no significance.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“But, this new strain of the coronavirus which has been detected in the UK and to other countries, is concerning.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“We are mainly saying it in London, and the southeast of England, but also in Wales. The way the virus has spread rapidly in these areas is very similar.“ ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“This new strain appears to be much more infectious than the strain which originated in Wuhan, and is much more easily transmitted from person to person.’ ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“At this stage we do not believe that it causes a more serious illness than what we already understand.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“We do not believe that it will affect how the vaccine works. We will continue to closely monitor this new variant and what the scientific evidence is telling us.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“On Monday of last week we were aware of 10 cases in Wales, by Friday this had risen to 20, mainly around Bridgend and the Vale of Glamorgan.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“A new analysis by the weekend suggested this new strain is much more common, and is present all over Wales. This includes North Wales, even though overall rates of the virus are lower than they are in South Wales.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“The Office for National Statistics over the weekend, published data from its infection survey that shows the new strain was present in 28% of samples from Wales.“ ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“In the second week of December, more than double the number in the previous week.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“Public Health Wales colleagues advise us that they feel this new strain could be causing up to 60% of coronavirus infections in Wales.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“This new variant looks very likely to be a significant driver of the huge growth in cases we’ve seen in Wales in recent weeks.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

The first minister added, “While 2020 has been an extraordinary year and a very difficult one for us all.“ ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“This is a pandemic that has been full of surprises. And it’s taken another deeply unpleasant turn, just as we were preparing to celebrate Christmas.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

This new strain is a challenge for us all. But it is another challenge that we will manage together. ” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

The DCMO did mention the situation in North Wales, saying of samples that “22% demonstrated the variant” and ‘that was increasing’. The Daily Post asked for further details on the new variant, and North Wales, and was told: ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Professor Chris Jones said that over the weekend “Public Health Wales colleagues were able to undertake an analysis of the samples from Wales that have gone to lighthouse labs (in England) that can recognise this variant.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“That amounted to about 6000 in total of around 42,000 cases from earlier this month in Wales, and of the North Wales samples, 22% demonstrated the variance.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“He said it does provide some sort of indication and that that’s consistent with the ONS estimate of between 20 and 30% earlier in December.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

In the latest update from Public Health Wales today, Dr Giri Shankar, Incident Director for the Covid-19 outbreak response, said: ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“As indicated by the Welsh Government, the immediate introduction of new (level 4)  restrictions is related to the identification of a new more transmissible variant of Coronavirus.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“It is normal for viruses to undergo mutations, and we expect this to happen.  Although the variant is easier to transmit, there is currently no evidence that it is more severe. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“We are reminding people that all current guidance relating to Coronavirus continues to apply to the new variant, including advice relating to symptoms, social distancing, self-isolation, and vaccination. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“We remind people that the more people that you mix with, the higher the risk of both transmitting and contracting Coronavirus, and you must change your Christmas plans. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“The more people who contract the virus, the greater the number who will need hospital treatment in our already stretched NHS Wales services. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Public Health Wales has published some  frequently asked questions with regards to the new Coronavirus variant: ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Why has this new Coronavirus variant become such an issue suddenly? ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

It is normal for viruses to mutate, and the new variant of Coronavirus that is now circulating in the UK is as a result of such a mutation. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

We think the new variant has been circulating since at least 1 November 2020.  So far, more than 1,400 cases have been identified in England, mainly in the South East.  As of 14 December around 20 cases have been confirmed in Wales but the true figure is likely to be higher (several hundreds). ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Experts are concerned about the impact of this particular variant because of how common it is, and how fast it spreads. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

This variant is easier to spread. Does that mean it requires more Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for health and care staff? ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

The key advice remain the same – that’s maintaining two-metre social distancing, washing hands, and use of personal protective equipment. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Health and social care workers should ensure that they have the correct PPE for the areas in which they are working, have been trained in the use of the PPE and use it correctly. It is also essential to ensure that these measures are observed in communal areas outside the clinical areas, like break areas, and when travelling to and from work. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

If I have the new variant, will the test pick it up? ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Yes. The current tests used in Wales are not affected by the changes in this variant and will still detect the virus. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Is this widespread across Wales or just limited to South East Wales? ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

The variant has been identified in all areas of Wales. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

How many cases have been identified in Wales so far? ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

As of 14 December, 20 confirmed cases have been identified, but estimates suggest estimates suggest that approximately 11% of recent new cases (over 600) of COVID-19 are. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

It is likely that the variant represents an even higher percentage of overall cases, and this percentage is increasing over time. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

When did we know of the first cases in Wales, and what actions have PHW been taking? ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

It is difficult to tell when this variant started circulating in Wales, but we believe the earliest cases might be from around early November. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Wales is a member of the national Incident Management Team which is currently meeting daily, with wider meetings twice a week. Public Health Wales contribute daily case numbers based on sequencing data, and also an epidemiology summary for confirmed cases. Wales has contributed to a European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) rapid threat assessment on the variant. A protocol for a case-control method to estimate whether reinfections are more likely in variant cases has been developed in Wales and shared for use with Public Health England and Northern Ireland. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Do clinician need to make any changes to the management plan for treating their current Coronavirus patients? ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Currently there is no information to suggest that individuals affected with this variant strain require different type of care. This is will be kept under constant review. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Does this affect the duration of self-isolation period? ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

No, it does not. The current recommended period of self-isolation applies. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

I live in the South East region of Wales and have recently had a positive test for Coronavirus. How will I know if I was infected with the variant strain? ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Genomic analyses will tell us whether the strain that infected a particular individual is the new variant or not. However, not all positive tests are sequenced and there is usually a lag before sequencing results come through. There are, however, other indicators that give us an idea of how much of this variant is present here in Wales. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Currently there is no information to suggest that individuals affected with this variant strain require different type of care. This is will be kept under constant review. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

I live with someone who is the previous “shielding” group. Do I need to take additional precautions in the light of this new variant? ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

You will need to continue to take all precautions outlined in the guidance, and people in the clinically extremely vulnerable group should take extra precautions to minimise contact with others in line with the advice given by the Chief Medical Officer for Wales ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Will there be more variants in the future? ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

This is not the first variant of Coronavirus, and is unlikely to be the last. Different variants will have different effects on the course of this pandemic. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Is it more harmful? ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

There is currently no evidence showing that the variant is more severe than previous viruses. This is being monitored by ongoing surveillance and research. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Should I be doing something differently or following the same rules as before? ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

The main rules – handwashing, social distancing, and so on – have not changed.  But increased restrictions have been announced because the variant is easier to spread and because case numbers have been going up. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Does this virus spread more easily through medical procedures that cause patients to release particles from their lungs – also called ‘aerosol generating procedures’? ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

There is currently no evidence of any difference between this variant and others. But this is something that will be monitored closely going forward. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

I have recently received the COVID vaccine? Will it still be effective against this new variant? ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

There is no evidence to suggest that this vaccine approved for use in the UK will not work against this variant.  This will be monitored closely. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​


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