A health expert has warned coronavirus levels in the Swansea Bay area could soon reach catastrophic levels unless people follow the rules on social distancing during the Christmas season.
Swansea Bay University Health Board Director of Public Health Dr Keith Reid warned that if people don’t do the right thing and keep their distance from others as much as possible, the virus will have a stranglehold and risk bringing health and social care services to their knees.
Neath Port Talbot has record levels of Covid-19 infection rates which are the highest in Wales and numbers are rising rapidly and Swansea is not far behind. In Neath Port Talbot today’s reported infection rate is 622 cases per 100,000 population per week and in Swansea the figure is 446 cases per 100,000 population per week. There were 800 new cases reported in the last two days alone in the Swansea Bay region.
By comparison back in September just before the local lockdown the figures were 56 cases per 100,000 for Swansea and 38 cases per 100,000 for Neath-Port Talbot.
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.”
“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.
“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.
“Please think about what you need to do rather than what you want to do. The vaccine is coming but for most of us it’s not here yet. We need to do the right thing for Christmas which is to follow the social distancing rules and stay safe.
“We have a chance to stave off a potential catastrophe. But we all have a role to play.”
Between November 25th and December 1st, 2020, there were 1,674 new cases of Covid-19 recorded in Swansea Bay – 711 in Neath Port Talbot and 960 in Swansea.
Dr Reid said it was clear that people mixing with others at home, in the street, at work with friends and strangers alike is the driving force behind the rise in numbers. For the first 48 hours or so before symptoms emerge people don’t even know they are infected let alone potentially passing it on to people they love.
He said: “Unless this community transmission drops significantly, we will be in a catastrophic situation by January because of big rises in cases of Covid and hospital admissions.
Already the health board alongside Swansea and Neath Port Talbot councils are taking action to try to prevent the spread and to try to manage the impact of soaring post-Christmas Covid-19 infections.
Directors of social care at the councils are making difficult decisions. David Howes, Director of Social Services in Swansea, said: “The rising infection levels within the community are extremely worrying, and the demand for hospital and community services is now becoming greater than the resources we have available to us.
“Our teams have done an incredible job for so many months. But we are dealing with a depleted, stretched and exhausted workforce, not just within our hospitals, but in community settings too. We are looking to reduce services in some areas, to make changes that no-one wants to make.”
Andrew Jarret, Director of Social Services in Neath Port Talbot, said: “People currently receiving support in their own homes, or in a care home will be affected by the changes we will need to make as resources will be diverted to care for those most in need.
“The difficult reality is that if we continue to see the number of Covid-19 cases continue to rise as rapidly as they are now going into the New Year, services will struggle to respond.
Cllr Rob Jones, the Leader of Neath Port Talbot Council, said: “The majority of people are being sensible and stick to the rules by maintaining social distance, sanitising their hands and wearing masks where appropriate.
“But it only takes a minority to ignore the guidelines and lead to a spread in coronavirus. We all have to pull together and resist the temptation for social mixing as doing so could put our nurses and doctors at risk and lead to a situation where hospitals and health services are overwhelmed.”
Rob Stewart, Leader of Swansea Council, said: “We are in a critical time. Over the last nine months people, businesses, friends and strangers have come together to support each other in incredible ways.
This year will go down as the year of Covid-19. But 2020 will also be the year where we all saw community spirit and kindness and care making the difference.
“To save lives and protect the NHS we need, once again, to do the right thing. Have a safe, socially-distanced festive season.”