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Coronavirus

Walking group uses great outdoors to help tackle long Covid

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People suffering with long Covid symptoms are benefiting from getting out in the great outdoors as part of their ongoing recovery.

A new walking group sees those taking part exercising at their own pace as they are accompanied along the route by a GP and a physiotherapy assistant practitioner.

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Patients who have been referred to the Long Covid Rehabilitation Service, which runs from the Bay Field Hospital, are invited to take part in the weekly walks as an extension of the support available to them.

The service supports patients to return to their daily activities by offering rehabilitation that aims to understand and improve each person’s health and well-being.

The official term is post-Covid-19 syndrome, which is defined as signs and symptoms that develop during or after an infection consistent with Covid-19, continue for more than 12 weeks and are not explained by an alternative diagnosis.

The walking group, which runs in collaboration with the National Exercise Referral scheme, meets at Fendrod Lake, in Swansea. It offers an opportunity for those with long Covid to continue accessing support from medical professionals, as well as from each other.

The health board’s community-based approach to long Covid rehabilitation aims to help patients close to their homes in ways that best aid their recovery.

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Dr Kate Holliman, a GP with a special interest in lifestyle medicine, created the group after seeing patients benefitting from the social connections made during the rehabilitation sessions.

She wanted to help patients access the benefits of spending time outdoors in a supportive environment.

Dr Holliman, who leads the walks each week, said: “I created the group after seeing the success of the long Covid rehabilitation groups and the marked improvement in patients who had been struggling with symptoms for months.

“The walking group is great for peer support as people with long Covid can often feel quite isolated because many people don’t understand it.

“Patients find it really useful having other people, as well as health care professionals, who understand them.

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“The walks also act as a drop-in session for advice as they don’t have to come every week. They can get advice from me as a GP or from one of our physiotherapists.”

Alison Gabrielsen is just one of the people to benefit from the six-week rehabilitation course and, more recently, the weekly walks.

The 56-year-old, from Swansea, contracted Covid-19 in November 2020 and for the past year has been struggling with breathlessness, fatigue and daily headaches.

“I didn’t have any symptoms at the beginning but after about eight days it hit me,” Alison said. “I had headaches, earaches, I lost my sense of smell and taste, it affected my breathing and I had a cough.

“My taste and smell have both come back but some foods still don’t taste the same. The breathlessness and fatigue have been the worst.

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“There are times when you think ‘am I going mad?’ because some days you feel fine and others you don’t. I have felt so low thinking there will never be an end to it.”

Not only has the exercise helped to improve Alison’s breathlessness but she said being around other people experiencing similar symptoms has also been beneficial.

She added: “Going on the weekly walks you’re with people who are going through the same thing as you, so you’re not alone.

“Most of what you have experienced, they have experienced as well. Everyone has been so supportive.

“Exercising has helped my breathing a lot and the talks we’ve had have helped to understand what’s going on in your body.

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“The support I’ve received has been marvellous.”

Helen Purcell has also been making the most of the walking group and said that talking to medical staff, as well other people experiencing long Covid, has boosted her confidence.

The 58-year-old, who has had Covid-19 twice in the last year, said: “I had Covid in December 2020 and I’ve had it again since. My breathing was the worst thing and I had a little cough.

“My eyesight has been terrible since then and I’ve been getting terrible headaches, vertigo and I’ve been so exhausted.

“As time went on I went into a depression and had anxiety where I didn’t like to go anywhere on my own.

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“I’ve found the support from the walking group fantastic. It’s fun and you can go at your own pace. I’ve found it’s given me more confidence and I’ve learned so much.

“We encourage each other and it gives you more of a structure to your day. It has been very beneficial to be around other people feeling like me.”

While the walking group offers patients the chance to share their experiences of long Covid with each other, it also acts as an opportunity to exercise outdoors.

Dr Holliman added: “It’s great because the patients are getting fresh air and getting out into nature to exercise.

“Gentle exercise has benefits for our mental and physical health.

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“Long Covid patients often suffer with their sleep and one way to improve sleep is to get regular exercise and regular daylight.

“Spending time in nature has been shown to improve your mood, memory, concentration and immune system.”

Nicola Perry-Gower, pulmonary rehabilitation clinical lead, said: “The walking and talking groups are a great opportunity to continue with a person’s rehabilitation after completing the post-Covid-19 syndrome course.

“It encompasses the power of exercise and the benefit of talking therapies.”

It is hoped that the support on offer from both health professionals and others experiencing long Covid symptoms will help people to return to work and their daily activities.

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Alison Clarke, assistant director of therapies and health sciences, said: “Although this refers to a walking group, the clinical focus is not just on the physical exercise. This approach offers the opportunity for people to share experiences, fears and solutions. 

“Being listened to and communicating with others provides reassurance and builds confidence.

“The symptoms associated with long Covid can have a huge impact on people’s lives, the symptoms are varied and can fluctuate.

“I’m delighted that the multi-professional team are making rehabilitation more accessible and are committed to supporting people to return to work and to re-engage in activities they enjoy, improving their health and well-being.”

Lead image: Helen Purcell, John Ashley and Carole McGuire on one of the walks (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

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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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