Chief Medical Officer calls for caution following latest review of Covid restrictions in Wales
Wales’ Chief Medical Officer has stressed the importance of maintaining sufficient Covid testing capacity despite the the continued easing of restrictions to control the spread of the virus.
Dr Frank Atherton also warned that despite reductions in the current infection rate the risk of harm remains as future variants emerge.
On Friday, First Minister Mark Drakeford announced that all legal measures to control the spread of Covid will be removed in Wales on 28 March if the public health situation remains stable.
It means masks will no longer be needed in shops, public transport, hairdressers, salons and health and social care, and people with Covid will no longer be required to self-isolate for five days.
Responding to the move announced after the government’s latest review, Dr Atherton said: “Community transmission of COVID-19 continues at a high but reducing level and it appears that the omicron driven wave of infection is receding.
“Direct harms from the pandemic continue but at a much-reduced level compared with previous waves. It is therefore appropriate to continue our approach of cautious easing of the protections which are still in place.
“I note the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) and New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) views that future variants are highly likely to appear and may lead to more significant levels of direct harm than have been seen with the Omicron variant.
“This supports my previous advice that, as we cautiously ease protective measures, we retain sufficient testing capacity to support individuals who become ill, to protect vulnerable individuals and settings, and to ensure we have an effective system for surveillance and response with regard to new and emerging variants.”
Previous rules on Covid passes and masks in many public places were lifted in Wales at the previous three-week review on 11 February.
All Covid restrictions have already been scrapped in England and Northern Ireland and will end in Scotland on 21 March.
On Thursday, the Welsh Government published a longer-term plan to live safely with coronavirus called Together for a Safer Future: Wales’ Long-term Covid-19 Transition from Pandemic to Endemic.
It sets out a gradual transition away from emergency measures, based on evidence and with the protection of everyone, especially the most vulnerable, at its heart.
The plan sets out how Wales’ response to coronavirus will change under the two core planning scenarios – Covid Stable and Covid Urgent.
Covid Stable is the most likely scenario – with Wales expected to encounter new waves of infection, but they are not expected to put unsustainable pressure on the NHS thanks to the effectiveness of vaccines and other pharmaceutical treatments, such as new Covid-19 antivirals.
The plan sets out a gradual, phased approach towards the long-term management of the virus under Covid Stable, including:
- Supporting people to maintain behaviours we have all become familiar with to help reduce the transmission of all respiratory infections, not just coronavirus.
- Vaccination boosters in spring for the elderly and most vulnerable adults, and a regular Covid-19 vaccination programme from the autumn.
- Test, Trace, Protect programme gradually moves away from universal and routine symptomatic and asymptomatic testing and the requirement to self-isolate, to a more targeted approach aimed at vulnerable people.
- Adaptation of public services, including, for example, using local risk assessments and outbreak control plans.
- Businesses and other employers to build on the elements of infection control they have put in place to protect staff and customers.
- Contingency planning is also underway to enable the Welsh Government and other public services to quickly respond to a Covid-Urgent scenario – such as a new variant which evades the vaccine – if necessary.
The next three-weekly review of the coronavirus regulations will be carried out by 24 March, when the remaining legal measures at alert level zero will be reviewed.
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