Chief Medical Officer for Wales statement on retaining the existing Health Protection restrictions aligned to Alert Level Four in Wales.
I have reviewed the proposal to retain the existing Health Protection restrictions aligned to Alert Level Four in Wales and I support this position.
Improvements in community rates of transmission have been seen in the last three weeks but the position remains unstable and COVID-19 continues to circulate in all areas of Wales. Testing rates are lower which may reflect the falling infection in the community but may also have been impacted by severe weather conditions; storms, flooding and snow over the last weeks. The potential for the new UK variant of concern, which is 70% more transmissible, and now seen in all regions of Wales, to further destabilise the position remains unclear. The impact on the NHS is still serious as hospital admissions with COVID-19, whilst falling, are relatively elevated and ITU cases high but potentially stabilising.
We saw in November/December how quickly rates decreased with the firebreak and then increased with relaxation so taking this cautious approach is advisable. The minor changes proposed: to allow support bubbles to reform if necessary and individuals to meet with one other person from a separate household to exercise outdoors, are unlikely to negate our efforts to prevent community transmission and offer immediate benefits for mental health and physical wellbeing as lockdown continues. Both of these can also be done in the safest way possible. We know that the chances of infection are reduced outdoors, but they are not unheard of, so it is important to keep social distancing and avoid face to face interaction. Ensuring that there is a 10 day gap between finishing and reforming a new support bubble will minimise the risks of infection.
Over 310,000 doses of vaccine have been delivered in Wales at significant pace so these efforts are to be congratulated to all concerned, however no vaccine will ever be 100% effective. The core group being vaccinated first are those who are most at risk of death and severe morbidity but are not those who are experiencing the highest rates of new cases; who are people of working age, so we must all continue to behave as if no one has had the vaccine yet . Our high rates of coronavirus in the community and the dominant strain being the highly-infectious Kent strain mean there is an on-going risk of the virus being transmitted from person to person. Staying home is still the best course of action being taken by the majority of people in Wales and thinking ‘hands, face and space’ if you need to go out, will help to keep everyone safe.
Dr Frank Atherton
Chief Medical Officer
28 January 2021