The Chief Medical Officer for Wales has set out his advice to inform the review of coronavirus restrictions on 1 April, recommending the need to maintain a cautious and incremental approach to lifting restrictions
I have reviewed the recommendations to amend the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 2) (Wales) Regulations 2020 to allow the return of all children to face-to-face learning and to re-open all non-essential retail and close contact services after the Easter holiday.
My advice continues to be informed by the outputs of the UK Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE) and the Welsh Technical Advisory Cell (TAC), and through discussions with Chief Medical Officers in the 4 Nations.
We have entered a sensitive phase in our management of the pandemic with community transmission at reduced levels, a decline in test positivity and NHS capacity continuing to improve. However, a significant proportion of our population is still susceptible to the direct impact of COVID-19; severe infection, hospital admissions and death.
Lockdown has had the intended impact on reducing the prevalence of the virus, which provides for a conducive environment for removing certain restrictions. I note however that our data modelling continues to suggest that lifting too many restrictions simultaneously, will increase the opportunities to mix, will increase the number of infected individuals and will lead to a rebounding of case rates and the real possibility of another wave of coronavirus.
Our vaccination programme is progressing well and will over time decrease our dependency on population control measures but it is not yet clear that we have achieved sufficient population coverage to de-link the relationship between community transmission, serious illness and death.
The prospect of re-seeding of infection and the introduction of new variants of COVID-19 from other parts of the UK and from other countries remains as a threat to our continued recovery and we should continue to press for more effective UK border controls.
As restrictions are removed, it is incumbent on sectors to undertake the risk assessments and to put into place the mitigations that will prevent transmission such as ventilating shared spaces to avoid the build up of aerosols if someone is infected and the use of face coverings where necessary, to protect each other from asymptomatic spread of the virus.
Public behaviour (staying outdoors, social distancing and self isolating when symptomatic) remains essential in keeping viral transmission within manageable bounds; consistent and continued messages on the risks of social mixing is required (particularly indoors).
I recognise the merits of consistency across UK nations but my recommendation is that we maintain our incremental approach. Unlocking in this cautious manner will build on the considerable sacrifices that have been made by everyone to protect and preserve public health.
Careful monitoring at each stage will enable the evaluation of relaxations against vaccination effectiveness, will support the management of new outbreaks and clusters, and allow for better detection and responses to new variants. This approach will facilitate the timing and sequencing of relaxations based on the progress of the pandemic so that we tailor our recovery to the risk.
Dr Frank Atherton
Chief Medical Officer