Leading medics claim a short national lockdown for Wales is “essential” in stopping the NHS from becoming overwhelmed with patients.
On Monday afternoon, First Minister Mark Drakeford announced a 17-day “fire-break” lockdown for Wales which will run from Friday, October 23 at 6pm to Monday, November 9.
Everyone will be expected to stay at home wherever possible, non-essential retail will shut and secondary schools will close for those in year 9 and above.
Mr Drakeford said it was critical to act now to reduce the rising rates of coronavirus in Wales which has seen 3,870 new confirmed cases between October 10 and 16.
“The number of people being taken to hospital with coronavirus symptoms is growing every day. Our critical care units are already full,” he admitted.
“We are asking our healthcare and social care staff, who have already done so much, to work even harder.
“Unless we act the NHS will not be able to look after the increasing number of people who will fall seriously ill in the coming weeks, even with the extra 5,000 beds we have available. And even more people will die.
“If this happens we would have to take even more extreme measures to bring the virus under control – we would be looking at an open-ended national lockdown such as the one we had in March of this year.”
Responding to the Welsh Government announcement, Dr David Bailey, BMA Cymru Wales council chairman, said: “With the worrying increase in infections showing no signs of slowing, it is necessary that more stringent lockdown measures are put in place to protect the Welsh NHS and to save lives.
“Bringing in stronger restrictions in Wales at this point is essential – the surge in cases alongside the pressure that the winter season will inevitably bring and the huge backlog of patients already in the system is quite frankly an overwhelming prospect.
“Our members are deeply concerned about the ability of the service to cope. We hope the fire-break will stop the exponential rise and keep cases at a level where the NHS can cope, whilst also providing a small amount of relief to the staff who are fighting this virus on the frontline.”
However Dr Bailey said that the fire break must be accompanied by a “longer-term national prevention strategy”.
He added: “As part of that strategy, BMA Cymru Wales is calling on the Welsh Government to focus on:
- continued priority testing for symptomatic NHS staff and further consideration of regular asymptomatic testing for NHS staff;
- clear and consistent communication with the public on what they need to do to stop the spread, this must include clear public messaging that the NHS must be protected if elective work is to be delivered alongside caring for the influx of coronavirus patients;
- tackling in-hospital spread of the virus;
- keeping schools open where possible to avoid long-term effects on children’s mental health and well-being;
- childcare support for frontline key workers who are putting their lives on the line to care for patients;
- reducing bureaucracy and improving IT;
- fair remuneration for additional hours worked.”
Wales is set for a major change in national coronavirus rules as a fire-break lockdown comes into effect from Friday. So how does what First Minister Mark Drakeford announced on Monday tally with the approach elsewhere around the UK at the moment?
In England a new three-tier alert system has come into place and means more than 28m people are now living under additional restrictions which cover more than half the country. The lowest tier is tier one, or medium, and in such areas people can meet indoors or outdoors providing they follow the rule of six while pubs and restaurants must shut at 10pm.
Under tier two, or high, no household mixing is permitted indoors but groups of up to six can congregate outside while the 10pm closure of pubs and restaurants also applies. In the top tier three, or very high, no household mixing is allowed at all whether indoors or outdoors in hospitality venues or in private gardens but the rule of six applies in outdoor public settings such as parks. Pubs and bars not serving meals must close while there is guidance in place against travelling into or out of the area. Additional measures may be put in place at specific local levels.
Northern Ireland has begun a strict four-week circuit-breaker set of measures with the hospitality sector shut other than for deliveries and takeaways, schools closed for at least two weeks, no mass events of more than 15 people except for permitted outdoor sporting events, and close contact services like hairdessers unable to operate. Gyms are allowed to open for individual training but classes are banned while places of worship can remain open provided people wear face coverings when arriving and leaving.
In Scotland tougher measures have been in place for a little longer, with all pubs and restaurants in the ‘central belt’ area, including Glasgow, shut since 6pm on October 9. Licensed venues must remain closed until October 25 but can operate as takeaways and cafés which don’t serve alcohol are entitled to open until 6pm. Pubs, bars, restaurants, and cafés throughout the rest of Scotland cannot serve alcohol indoors but can sell it outdoors until 10pm. Weddings and funerals are limited to 20 people only while mixing in private homes is only allowed between extended households, which can be formed either by people living alone or in single-parent families and another household of any size. Groups of up to six, not counting under-12s, from no more than two households can meet outdoors.
Similarly, Darren Hughes, director of the Welsh NHS Confederation, a body which supports Wales’ health boards and NHS trusts, said: “The NHS in Wales is coming under increasing pressure as the number of people being taken to our hospitals with coronavirus symptoms continues to rise. Sadly we are also sadly seeing the number of people dying with coronavirus rising as well.
“It is clear robust action needs to be taken now to protect people who may be susceptible to the virus and to protect the NHS in Wales to ensure that it does not become overwhelmed.
“NHS and care staff are working hard not only to treat people with coronavirus, but also provide for people who need other important healthcare needs too.
“Providing other services becomes increasingly difficult as cases of coronavirus rise in hospitals because we need to plan for more patients coming in with the virus, and we also need to take extra hygiene measures to make sure we can keep other areas of our hospitals safe for people to use.”
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Mr Hughes noted there are other important indirect health and economic consequences which have come as a result of the pandemic, including the impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing.
He added: “Wales continues to show great resilience and remarkable togetherness. We want everyone in Wales to know we understand their frustrations and we know this is difficult for everyone, but we cannot beat this virus without the support of the public.
“Neither should we forget the extraordinary efforts of NHS and social care staff throughout this time. Their efforts and sacrifices in order to deliver care for everyone who needs it, under extreme pressure, has been nothing short of heroic.”
Helen Whyley, director of the Royal College of Nurses (RCN) Wales, said the safety and health of the people in Wales is the highest priority for the organisation.
“Unfortunately, the cases have been rising over the past few weeks. Our nursing professionals are working so hard, exhausted, stressed and anxious about caring for a big increase in patients as case levels rise,” she said.
“We need to protect the nursing and social care staff in the NHS and in our care homes. It is vital that we all follow the regulations so that admissions for Covid-19 rise to a rate which can be accommodated by the NHS in Wales.
“I was pleased to hear the First Minister of Wales acknowledging the importance and the dedication of nurses in the NHS and social care, but to support them, following the restrictions is not enough.
“Testing for health and social care staff has to be accessible and results need to be immediate to ensure nursing staff are able to help and care for the people of Wales.
“I urge everyone to follow the restrictions and guidelines which are being put in place by the Welsh Government. It’s very important to remember we were still very much in the middle of a pandemic and following the guidelines will help stop the spread of the virus.”
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