Ifan Morgan Jones
As the Welsh rugby squad was announced this morning there was a strange feeling of unreality to the whole thing, as life seemed to continue as normal in this one instance where everywhere else it is grinding to a halt.
The Welsh Government will of course be acting on the advice of medical experts. Nevertheless, the contrast between Ireland announcing today that they are going to be shutting down schools, universities and even childcare providers and Wales not even cancelling a rugby match seems pretty stark.
The Scottish Government has also just announced that they’re banning gatherings of over only 500 people from Monday, which raises the question of whether the game would go ahead if it was being played in Edinburgh.
Italy postponed their own rugby matches back on 26 February when their outbreak was at a similar level of development as ours is now, as in hindsight that decision has been vindicated.
It leaves Wales v Scotland – a match to decide on fifth place in the tournament – as the only game in the Six Nations going ahead this weekend, after the Italy v England and Ireland v France matches to decide the winner of the tournament were both postponed.
It is not so much 75,000 rugby fans gathering at the open-air national stadium that is worrying, but the number of fans who will be packed together on public transport and public houses before and after the match.
Perhaps not a single one of them will have coronavirus. But given that fans will travel to Cardiff from all over Wales and beyond it seems to be an event almost designed to ensure the efficient spread of the virus throughout the country.
The Welsh Government confirmed yesterday that at least one person who had tested positive for coronavirus had no known contact with anyone else with the virus.
That is confirmation that there are cases out there already that are yet to have been picked up on.
The coronavirus will of course not have a big health impact on everyone who catches it. It mostly impacts the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.
The main danger seems to be that hospitals become overwhelmed with a high number of cases in a short period of time and can’t care for everyone.
Unfortunately, Wales does not seem best placed to weather such an eventuality. Yesterday an expert warned that Wales was “uniquely at risk” due to a shortage of critical care beds.
We also have an older population, with a higher % of our population than England and Scotland in the 60+ age bracket which has been hit hardest by the coronavirus so far.
It’s clear now that the coronavirus cannot be stopped – it can only be slowed down so that the NHS is not overwhelmed all at once.
The Welsh Government will be keen to ‘flatten the curve’ to avoid that happening, but not so much that the outbreak goes on indefinitely and into next winter when capacity will be even more scarce.
Getting that balance right between allowing the slow spread of the virus and letting it overwhelm the NHS won’t be easy.
However looking at the experience of other countries who are dealing with a higher number of cases, not going ahead with a gathering of 75,000 people in our nation’s capital looks like a prudent thing to do.