Posted: Tue 28th Jul 2020

Chief Medical Officer points to ‘community transmission’ in Wrexham – Minister says “that appears to be the case” for people living in or visiting the wrexham area

Welsh Government are still looking to UK Government to offer some form of economic support for people in Wrexham who may be faced with a ‘perverse’ choice between getting tested and suffering economic impact, or not being tested and potentially causing wider community harm.

A week ago we asked the Health Minister about the situation in Wrexham and he said there was an issue within some of the community that works within Rowan Foods, and that it is a relatively closed community, and that was why we hadn’t not seen sustained transmission in Wrexham.

A week later there area community testing facilities being setup tomorrow in Caia and Hightown, and Chief Medical Officer Dr Frank Atherton speaking of “community transmission” in Wrexham.

For clarity at today’s regular Tuesday briefing we asked the Minister for Finance and Trefnydd, Rebecca Evans MS,  if Welsh Government also labelled this as wider community transmission in Wrexham, and if Wrexham is the only area in Wales where they are aware of such community transmission taking place?

Ms Evans replied: “We have a small number of outbreaks in Wales, so those outbreaks are at Wrexham Maelor and in Rowan Foods as well.

“We’re looking to see through those two outbreak control teams to what extent that there is a link between those two.

“I think it’s really important that we are doing more testing in the area because of course the more you test, and the more opportunity that you have to find Coronavirus and take those those steps then to find those contacts with those individuals as well.

“It’s too early to say whether there’s a definitive link between the two. But inevitably the work that’s going on in terms of tracking those movements of people and the contacts that they’ve had will shed some light on this.”

Yesterday the Chief Medical Officer Dr Atherton said it believed that “the community transmission is related” to the Wrexham Maelor and Rowan Foods outbreaks and ‘overlap’ (around 1hr 19mins on this BBC Radio Wales interview).

He also reiterated there was “some transmission in the community”. We noted those comments to Ms Evans and pointed out the question was specific on the community transmission wording.

She replied: “Well, it appears if the individuals who were in Wrexham hospital weren’t working at Rowan Foods then potentially they would have had that contact within the community having come across somebody working at Rowan Foods, and not knowing.

“S, yes, that appears to be the case, which is why it’s so important that we do focus on that testing and tracking of those individuals who might come into contact with with people who have been affected by the coronavirus so that we can find them as quickly as possible, provide those tests and ensure that they they take the necessary precautions themselves not to spread it any further.”

A Public Health Wales expert explained to on Monday that the mobile testing facilities in Wrexham are being put in place to overcome some barriers people face to get tested, for example not being able to travel to existing testing facilities, which can be a financial decision.

Yesterday the Chief Medical Officer also noted the testing facilities were in ‘disadvantaged areas’.

Previously we have asked Ministers about situations where people may not wish to take a test knowing that a positive result could have economic impacts not just to them, but fellow housemates or friends and family.

That situation had been described as ‘perverse‘ by the First Minister at a previous briefing, and we had been told communications had been sent to UK Government on the topic to no avail.

Locally that financial barrier to testing by individuals having to take time off work to isolate had been mentioned again to us this week, and appears to be a current issue for people in Wrexham.

We noted the Minister’s answer to a question relating to those returning from holidays and into a quarantine period who encounter a similar issue, where she said talks were ongoing and Welsh Government do not have the resources to fund a solution.

We asked at what point Welsh Government will step in, as this is a public health issue in Wrexham.

The Minister replied: “It is a public health issue, but it’s not just in Wrexham I have to say, you’ll see these outbreaks right across the UK and calls for the UK Government to step in and provide that support, economic support, to those individuals who are affected and who have to self isolate in communities elsewhere in Wales as well.

“When we are talking about welfare support essentially or employment related benefits, then these are matters which are quite rightly for the UK Government and it’s important that we continue to have those discussions with them.

“Obviously, we’re relying at the moment in some significant part with people being able to have have supportive employers, but clearly, people who are self employed face a much more difficult situation, which is why it’s important that the sick pay available from the UK Government kicks in very quickly and is there to support people in this particular kind of situation as well.”

BBC Wales opened the briefing today by also asking for clarification on the extent of community transmission in Wrexham and whether there is the support in the area needed to “stamp it out”.

The Minister said: “There are two particular areas of outbreak in Wrexham, with which you’ll be very familiar the first being at Rowan Foods, and we know that there have been few new cases now related to that outbreak, but also the outbreak centred at Wrexham Maelor hospital. In both cases, we have set up outbreak control teams, which will ensure that those chains of transmission are followed up, and any additional infection control measures are put in place.

“Clearly we’re working very closely with people on the ground there and having daily and more frequently than that in fact, reports from the area.”

WalesOnline posed a question around this story they have run, asking: “We spoke to one woman whose mother died after catching the virus in a hospital in Wrexham, with plenty of PPE and a huge excess in daily testing capacity.

“How is it possible that people are regularly catching Covid in hospitals? And can you tell us what measures the Welsh Government are bringing in to deal with this? And why weren’t these measures in place the entire time?”

Ms Evans said:  “Welsh Government has been working very closely with Wrexham Maelor hospital particularly and has put in place now the hospital outbreak control team.

“And that outbreak control team now is there to ensure that we break the chain of transmission, that we understand all of the contacts who might have come across people with coronavirus.

“This is a new and a different step in terms of the way in which we’re tackling the Coronavirus here in Wales, we’ve moved from these Wales wide measures to more localised measures to try and to bear down on the virus when it does take place in that very localised way.

“So there’ll be even more additional focus on infection prevention control measures at the hospital as a result of this, but as I say, Welsh Government is in very regular contact with the outbreak control team. The team there actually has been linked up now with the Rowan Foods control team to explore whether there are any interdependence.”

You can view the full briefing and Q&A section in the below video:

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