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Coronavirus

Catastrophe looms if we don’t follow Covid-19 rules, health chief warns

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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.”

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“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.  

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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.”

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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.

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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.”


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Coronavirus

Face coverings retained in health and social care settings

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First Minister Mark Drakeford has confirmed the legal requirement to wear a face covering in health and care settings will remain in place.

Speaking after the latest three-week review of the coronavirus regulations, the First Minister said the public health situation was improving following the recent spike in cases caused by the BA.2 sub-type of omicron.

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But Covid case rates remain high so maintaining the use of face coverings in health and care settings will help to protect to some of the most vulnerable people in society, staff and visitors.

The First Minister also urged everyone to continue to take measures to reduce the spread of coronavirus by following a set of simple steps to protect one another and keep Wales safe.

These include self-isolating if ill or testing positive for Covid-19; wearing a face covering in crowded indoor places, meeting outdoors wherever possible; keeping indoor areas well ventilated and washing hands regularly.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “The pandemic isn’t over but we are seeing encouraging signs the recent high levels of infections across Wales are falling.

“There are steps we can all take to protect ourselves while coronavirus is still circulating and reduce the spread of the virus even further. This is particularly true in places where some of the most vulnerable people in society are being treated and live, which is why we will retain the legal requirement to wear face coverings in health and social care settings.

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“More generally, ensuring you are up-to-date with your Covid vaccinations and spring booster – if you are eligible – is really important. If you have Covid symptoms or test positive, please stay at home and help break the chain of transmission.

“Together, we can carry on keeping each other safe and keeping Wales safe.”

The next three-weekly review of coronavirus regulations will be carried out by 26 May.

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Coronavirus

Schools’ Covid guidance aligned to businesses and other workplaces

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The Minister for Education and Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles, has announced that Covid-19 measures for schools in Wales will be brought into line with guidance for businesses and other organisations.

The Welsh Government has written to schools in Wales this morning to inform them of the changes.

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Since September last year, schools have applied measures to stop the spread of Coronavirus according to local circumstances, based on the Local Covid-19 infection control decision framework for schools. Schools will no longer be advised to use the framework.

The change is in line with the Welsh Government’s long-term Covid-19 transition from pandemic to endemic. The risk from coronavirus is now considered in the same context as other communicable diseases, such as flu.

The First Minister has announced that the remaining coronavirus restrictions will be removed from 9 May, if the public health situation remained stable. The changes to the guidance for schools will also come into effect from 9 May.

Schools and other education settings will continue to be advised to work with local authorities and public health advisors to ensure that measures remain appropriate and proportionate and reflect local risks and circumstances.

A checklist will be provided to support schools and settings in considering which control measures remain proportionate. Special schools will continue to follow the advice for children and young people with higher clinical risk and clinically extremely vulnerable adults.

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Speaking at the Welsh Government’s weekly press briefing, Jeremy Miles said: “In line with the wider public health guidance published at the last three-week review, we have today written to headteachers to signpost the impending changes to our advice for schools, which reflect the move from pandemic to endemic. This will ensure school guidance is more closely aligned with the rest of society.

“We all know that Covid-19 has not gone way. It remains vitally important we reduce the spread of the virus where we can – this includes, for example, following self-isolation guidance, and for education settings to continue to undertake robust risk assessments.”

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Coronavirus

Health board extends shuttle bus between Llanelli and COVID vaccination centre

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Hywel Dda University Health Board (HDUHB) has extended the free shuttle bus service between Llanelli town centre and the mass vaccination centre in Dafen to help people access their COVID-19 vaccination as easily as possible.

The shuttle bus, provided by Dolen Teifi, will continue to run between 10.30am to 4.40pm, seven days a week – with no service at 12.00pm from town or at 12.15pm from the mass vaccination centre to allow the drivers a lunch break.

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People can board the shuttle bus on the hour and at half-past the hour at Church Street, outside Llanelli Magistrates Court.

The shuttle bus will leave the mass vaccination centre quarter past and quarter to the hour, returning to the town centre and dropping passengers off opposite Llanelli library.

Bethan Lewis, Interim Assistant Director of Public Health for Hywel Dda UHB, said: “We need as many people as possible attending their COVID-19 vaccine appointments, or dropping in if eligible.

“This shuttle bus service is one of many additional resources and services being put in place across the Hywel Dda region to help support more people to receive their COVID-19 vaccination. I am pleased the shuttle bus service has been extended to help people reliant on public transport to access their COVID-19 vaccine.”

On 21 February 2022, the JCVI published a statement, recommending an additional spring booster.

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Strict COVID-19 safety measures are in place to ensure the safety of drivers and passengers on this service, including wearing face coverings unless medically exempt.

A maximum of 14 passengers are allowed per journey with a screen in place between driver and passengers.

The health board say that passengers should only use this service if they are fit and well on the day.

They add that before travelling without an appointment to Dafen mass vaccination centre, people should check the health board’s website for up-to-date information such as vaccine eligibility and drop-in opening times.

(Lead image: Hywel Dda NHS)

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