Government advised act ‘early, harder, wider and deeper’ to control Covid variant
The latest report from the group of scientist and experts advising the Welsh Government on the management of the Covid-19 pandemic, says swift and decisive action needs to be taken to manage the threat posed by the B.1.617.2 variant of concern.
The variant, first identified in India, is believed to be 50% more transmissible than the Kent variant that resulted in the second Covid wave last winter and early studies suggest vaccines are less effective, especially in people that have received just one jab.
Health Minister Eluned Morgan confirmed as of yesterday there were less than 100 cases of the variant in Wales and there have been no hospitalisations or death. However, since the variant was first identified last month infections have surged in England and Scotland and it is now the dominant variant in the UK.
The Technical Advisory Group report warns “there is evidence of uncontrolled community transmission in several places in England,” where areas in the North West, East Midlands and London have seen a rapid increase in cases and advises “It will be important to carefully monitor the situation in England and prepare for reasonable worst-case scenarios in Wales.”
The report says the importation of new cases from overseas and from England are “currently likely to be the main driver of seeding of this variant in Wales” and recommends the government acts “early, harder, wider and deeper than what can be seen in the data on the surface.”
With ministers meeting later this week to discuss further easing of Covid restrictions, the TAG report advises being “highly cautious in relaxing restrictions until more evidence on transmissibility, infection severity and immune escape is available” and recommends:
- Early consideration of reallocating vaccine resource, targeting first dose vaccination and accelerating delivery of second vaccine in areas that might be more likely to become clusters or areas of higher prevalence (e.g. areas of Cardiff, colleges etc.)
- Surge testing, including rapid and widespread deployment of lateral flow testing and enhanced contract tracing in areas and settings where B.1.617.2 has been identified.
- Clear messaging on risk of infections in unvaccinated populations.
Wales currently has the lowest Covid rates of any nation in the UK, according to the latest data from the Office of National Statistics, but case numbers have started to edge up in Scotland, England and Northern Ireland.
The latest figures for the two weeks week ending 22 May, estimate just 800 people in Wales had Covid-19, 0.03% of the population, equating to around 1 in 3,850 people.
In Scotland the proportion stands at 1 in 630, while in Ireland it is 1 in 820 and in England 1 in 910.
Public Health Wales confirms the national weekly case rate is currently 8.6 per 100,000 of the population and the positive test proportion stands at 0.9%.
Bridgend currently has the highest weekly case rate in Wales at 28.6 per 100,000 people. Blackburn, which has been hit hard by the variant of concern, has recorded 584 cases in the last seven days and has the highest case rate in England at 390.1.