First Minister announces testing plan to lead Wales out of coronavirus lockdown
First Minister Mark Drakeford has announced that a Wales-wide programme of surveillance, case identification, and contract tracing is being developed to allow the country to leave the lockdown.
The programme developed by the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Frank Atherton will allow the Welsh Government to test in the community and contain emerging coronavirus infections.
Dr Atherton said that they had “worked and put in place unprecedented measures to contain and delay the spread of coronavirus. We have also worked to reduce the overall impact of the virus by strengthening essential services, including healthcare.
“We are now working towards a new recovery phase to lead us out of the pandemic but only when the conditions are right.”
It will have four main strands – improved surveillance of cases of coronavirus; effective identification of cases and contact tracing; and learning from international experience and engaging with the public.
Mark Drakeford also today published a framework with seven key questions to determine when the strict stay-at-home restrictions can begin to be relaxed in Wales.
The seven questions are:
- Would easing a restriction have a negative effect on containing the virus?
- Does a particular measure pose a low risk of further infection?
- How can it be monitored and enforced?
- Can it be reversed quickly if it creates unintended consequences?
- Does it have a positive economic benefit?
- Does it have a positive impact on people’s wellbeing?
- Does it have a positive impact on equality?
Launching the framework, the First Minister said: “Our approach to date has been one of lockdown. We have taken unprecedented steps to protect everyone, but particularly those most at risk from serious illness.
“This has helped the NHS prepare and cope with coronavirus and, even though we have sadly seen more than 640 people die, it has helped to save many more lives. But this strategy comes with its own costs to people’s wider health and wellbeing and long-term costs to our economy.
“We are keeping these regulations under constant review. We know coronavirus will be with us for a long time yet but we want to see whether there are things we can do while we continue to tackle the virus and while the search for better treatments and a vaccine continue.”
The First Minister however warned that “Coronavirus is not going to disappear – it is likely it will be with us for a long time”.
“We will need to have some sort of restrictions in place for some time yet to continue to control the spread of the virus and reduce community transmission,” he said. “This framework will help us determine what is right for Wales.
“There is a long road ahead of us towards recovery to pre-pandemic levels, but if we continue to work together, I hope we will be able to make changes to the restrictions and see a gradual return to something resembling normal life.”
The Welsh Government said it had shared the development of the framework with the Scottish and Northern Irish governments, and the UK government who are overseeing the response in England.
Plaid Cymru Shadow Health Minister Rhun ap Iorwerth AM warned that without a “clear plan for a Wales-wide mass testing programme” with a strategy of testing, tracing and containing, Wales could not prepare for lifting lockdown restrictions.
He said Wales should follow the example of South Korea, which has one of the lowest mortality rates in the world, who adopted the strategy of testing, tracing and containing early on.
Adding that without vaccines or new treatments, the only way to break the lockdown was by adopting the same strategy of testing, tracing and containing.
Mr ap Iorwerth said this meant mobile and drive-in testing centres the “length and breadth of Wales” with results returned within 24 hours, an increase in daily testing capacity and “thousands tested every day”.
“The World Health Organisation advice has always been clear. To deal effectively with Covid-19, we have to test, trace and contain,” he said.
“With 237 deaths, South Korea have the lowest mortality rate in the world and have succeeded in keeping a semblance of normality because they adopted the strategy of testing, tracing and containing early on.
“However, the current Welsh Government strategy has been one of regressive testing – not ramping up. Daily testing of key workers is currently in the hundreds not the thousands. Targets have been missed and then scrapped. The First Minister said the online testing booking portal – which already exists in England, would be launched this week in Wales. There’s no sign of it. Another missed target.
“We can’t prepare for lifting lockdown restrictions without a clear plan for a Wales-wide mass testing programme – testing, tracing and containing, just like South Korea. Without a vaccine or new treatments, there is no other alternative.
“This means mobile and drive in testing centres the length and breadth of Wales with results returned within 24 hours. A huge increase in daily testing capacity. Thousands tested every day.
“Going backwards on testing is no way to break the lockdown.”