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Omicron caused ‘much lower’ harm than modelling suggested, says Wales’ Chief Medical Officer

11 Feb 2022 4 minute read
Wales’ CMO Sir Frank Atherton

Omicron caused “much lower” harm than the modelling had suggested, Wales’ Chief Medical Officer has said.

The latest advice by Sir Frank Atherton, Wales’ CMO, to the Welsh Government was published today.

Wales had introduced more stringent restrictions in December than England in order to flatten the curve of rising Omicron infections, including no crowds at sports matches, closed nightclubs and table service at bars and restaurants.

However, Frank Atherton suggested that “we have experienced much lower direct harms than were predicted in the modelling and witnessed in previous waves”.

He agreed that restrictions could be loosened further as the weather improved in the spring, but warned that other Covid mutations could appear in the future.

“Community rates of COVID-19 infection have stabilised albeit at a relatively high level and NHS pressures from severe illness and ICU bed occupancy have fallen,” he said.

“Whilst some ongoing harm from this highly transmissible virus remains unavoidable, the vaccination programme and lower severity from the Omicron variant have meant that we have experienced much lower direct harms than were predicted in the modelling and witnessed in previous waves.

“We are unaware of any significant variants of concern on the immediate horizon but SARS-CoV2 will continue to mutate and there remains a risk of future variants either bypassing population immunity or causing more serious illness in infected individuals.

“We should continue to work across the four UK Nations to develop effective domestic and international surveillance for COVID-19 and other respiratory pathogens.”

He added that a late flu season could also put pressure on Wales’ “already stressed healthcare system”.

“A gradual easement of our residual protections is therefore appropriate, with the removal of the requirement to wear face coverings in ‘optional’ indoor public places but retention of a mandatory status on public transport, in retail outlets and in health and social care settings,” he said.

“As a low burden and generally accepted NPI, this requirement could be further reviewed when the spring weather arrives.

“I am in support of moving to the voluntary use of the COVID Pass alongside supporting businesses to continue to risk assess, not only in response to COVID-19 but as part of standard good practice for health and safety.

“Continuing to employ legislation and offer financial support for positive cases to isolate remains an important and proportionate public health measure in order to protect others and prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

‘Not removing all measures’

The First Minister announced yesterday that Covid passes will no longer be needed from the end of next week and face masks will start to be phased out before St David’s Day.

From 18 February the legal requirement to show a Covid Pass to enter certain venues and events will be lifted, and from 28 February face coverings will no longer need to be worn in indoor public places apart from retail, public transport and health and care settings.

If the public health conditions continue to improve, the legal requirement to wear face coverings in all remaining settings could also be lifted by the end of March, Mark Drakeford said.

“With increasing numbers of people vaccinated and boosted and thanks to the hard work and efforts of everyone across Wales, we are confident that coronavirus rates are falling and we can look forward to brighter times ahead,” he said.

“We can start to gradually and carefully remove some of the remaining protections we have in place at alert level zero. But we are not removing all the measures at once because the pandemic is not over yet.

“To keep Wales safe we need to remain cautious and do everything we can to reassure those who feel most at risk. We will keep some important protections in place, including face coverings in health and social care settings, on public transport and in all shops. We will also keep self-isolation rules in place.

“Next month, we will publish a plan setting out how we will move beyond alert level zero and the emergency footing on which we have been operating for nearly two years.

“This will help us all to make some plans for the future.”

Mark Drakeford will not himself attend today’s press conference after it was announced today that he had caught Covid.

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