Second firebreak lockdown in Wales not ruled out amid warnings of Christmas 'catastrophe'

7 December 2020, 19:13

Public health bosses have spoken out following a surge in Covid-19 cases
Public health bosses have spoken out following a surge in Covid-19 cases. Picture: PA Images
Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

A second firebreak lockdown is not being ruled out by the Welsh Government as public health bosses warn it may be the only way to prevent a 'catastrophe' for the NHS at Christmas.

Health Minister Vaughan Gething told reporters on Monday that "everything is on the table" as officials try to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed by Covid-19 patients.

"We're discussing through this week," he said, "and we'll continue to discuss what measures we need to take.

"We've learned that trying to have hard and fast commitments to never contemplate future action is just not the right or the responsible thing to do. So of course that's an option that we'll need to consider."

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He dismissed the idea of returning to a tiered system of local restrictions, arguing that a "patchwork quilt of arrangements" would be irresponsible when infections are on the rise in 19 out of 22 local authority areas.

The minister confirmed that eight areas now have infection rates of more than 400 cases per 100,000 people.

It follows a warning from one of the country's top public health directors that hospitals could be "overwhelmed" in just weeks if infections continued to rise.

Dr Keith Reid from Swansea Bay University Health Board said he feared only another lockdown in Wales would be enough to save the local system from being "overwhelmed" if rates continued to rise.

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Wales also now has its highest ever number of Covid-19-related patients in hospitals with 1,800 in total, as well as the worst infection rate in the UK, just four weeks after the end of the country's 17-day firebreak.

On Monday, Dr Reid said: "We are at a critical stage. Infection rates are at record levels and we all need to play our part to bring this situation under control and quickly.

"If infections continue to rise at the current rate then without another lockdown before Christmas the local system will be overwhelmed."

Neath Port Talbot, covered by the doctor's health board, has the highest infection rate in the country with 622 cases per 100,000 - and Swansea not far behind with 446 cases per 100,000.

Both areas have seen infection rates increase more than tenfold since September.

Dr Reid said he believed people mixing with others inside homes, in the street and at work was the driving force behind the rise in cases.

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He called on the public to keep their distance from others and "do the right thing" in order to avoid bringing the health system to its knees.

"I don't want to be standing here within the next fortnight telling people the spread of the virus is out of control, that too many people are dying needlessly and health and social care workers can't cope for much longer," he said.

"It is a big thing to ask at this time of year when, after the kind of year we've had, we all want to be together with our friends and family.

"But my appeal is - on behalf of doctors, nurses and social care workers who have been at full stretch for so long - please stop and think.

"We have a chance to stave off a potential catastrophe. But we all have a role to play."

Tougher restrictions were introduced in Wales on Friday with hospitality businesses banned from selling alcohol and forced to close at 6pm until December 17 at the earliest.

Mr Gething said the effects of these restrictions would not be seen for weeks and it could be longer before pressure on the NHS was reduced.

"If we do not see a reduction in coronavirus admissions, we will need to consider what action we can take and may need to support the NHS as we move into the New Year, " he said.

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He said he could not rule out a second national firebreak lockdown after Christmas, saying: "Everything is on the table."

On Monday, Public Health Wales reported a further 2,021 cases of Covid-19 in Wales - the highest amount recorded for a single day - bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 91,013.

It also reported another two deaths, taking the total in Wales since the start of the pandemic to 2,711.