Advice presented to First Minister on the changes to the Health Protection Regulations
I have reviewed the proposed changes to our COVID-19 restrictions in Wales. The relaxations which are signalled are those which provide health and well being benefits at relatively low risk; either taking place outdoors or in regulated environments. These easements are consistent with our approach of unlocking cautiously so as to allow for relaxations to be monitored and assessed. This approach pays heed to the modelling data which predicts that re-opening too rapidly could result in increased community transmission with rising hospital admissions and deaths. Our lived experience of emerging from the first UK-wide lockdown and from the Welsh firebreak have demonstrated how quickly our situation can deteriorate.
Our vaccination programme continues at pace but the extent to which it has broken the link between community transmission and direct Covid-19 harms is not yet clear. We need to learn from the international experience; Israel has high levels of vaccination and lower case rates but it is still too early to conclude with confidence that population immunity has been reached. In Chile the relaxations of NPIs and the use of a vaccine which may be less effective appear to have resulted in cases rising once more.
Every relaxation that is made will impact on transmission rates. This has potential to propagate infection into younger age groups thus affecting those who have either not been vaccinated or for whom vaccination does not stimulate a good protective response. There is considerable risk in the too rapid reinstatement of non-essential international travel as this would pose the threats of re-seeding of infection and of the introduction of new vaccine-resistant variants.
Wales is currently experiencing the lowest levels of transmission in the UK due to the decisions that have been made to date and the control measures we have in place.
Dr Frank Atherton
22 April 2021