Posted: Tue 8th Sep 2020

Health Minister: “People who thought Coronavirus was no longer a threat should sit up and take notice” for people living in or visiting the Wrexham area
This article is old - Published: Tuesday, Sep 8th, 2020

The Health Minister said action taken in South Wales should be a ‘wake up call’ for everyone in Wales.

The briefing was due to be taken by Chief Medical Officer Frank Atherton, however this was changed to the Health Minister Vaughan Gething after Caerphilly was declared a local lockdown area.

It also appears that the reduction in Welsh Government briefings to one a week will also be partially reversed in light of an uptick in cases.

The warning came as the Health Minister was asked about the lockdown  by the Caerphilly Observer, and why Welsh Government think people would follow such new rules. Mr Gething said: “While the fact that Caerphilly has been singled out, with the highest rate within Wales and the second highest rate I understand right across the UK for Coronavirus infection, should be a real wake up call for everybody.

“People who thought Coronavirus was no longer a threat should sit up and take notice.

“People in those communities who see behaviour taking place, who see and hear house parties, if they’re going to tell the police about those we expect enforcement action to be taken.

“We’ve changed the rules because people are flouting those rules and there’s a real risk of mixing households with community transmission.

“Enforcement is there as a backstop, so the force of the law is now in place to make sure that individual households aren’t mixing.”

He added: “The first appeal is not just to people’s common sense, but to people’s recognition of a clear and present threat that Coronavirus faces and places upon the country.

“I do not want to see a second wave returning. I do not want to return to this press conference each week and have to explain the numbers of infection rates, the numbers of people in hospital and the numbers of people who are losing their lives.

“That is what is at stake. That is why we’ve introduced these new restrictions.”

Channel 4 News asked the Health Minister what he would say to those who look at the relatively low levels of hospitalisation and deaths from COVID at the moment, and think that somehow the virus has diminished in potency or poses less of a threat.

Mr Gething said: “It’s perhaps worth looking back at the recent, say the last four weeks in which we got some figures, in Wales four weeks ago, the positivity rate, the number of positive cases for the tests that we were carrying out, was 0.6%.

“Across the whole of Wales, we had 132 cases in the weekend ending the 16 August.

“Fast forward to the week ending the 6th of September, the positivity rate has gone up to 1.8%. That may not sound like much, but that actually means 406 cases across Wales.”

“In Caerphilly though, that’s moved from eight cases in the weekending the 16 August to 133 cases that were announced in the most recent.

“Now, that means there are more cases in Caerphilly in the most recent week on the rolling average compared to the whole of Wales four weeks ago.

“It shows the significance of the increase in Caerphilly itself. It shows Coronavirus is on the rise and if we do nothing now, we’ll see more people going into hospital over the coming weeks more people with COVID.

“I certainly haven’t forgotten what it was like having to make choices in March, April and May when infection rates are going up and up.

“More people are in our hospitals, our ITUs were full, despite the extended capacity we introduced and I was talking to you and colleagues in the press and the public about the number of people dying each week in significant numbers.

“That is what is at risk if we don’t collectively act to help stop the spread of coronavirus, and that underpins the action we’re taking in Caerphilly.”

We pointed the Minister to the growing range of content on Facebook from people who are skeptical about the virus, the benefits of the ongoing measures, and see no issue in rising confirmed case data. We noted that these are published on Facebook, and some actively promoted by Facebook’s systems, and are not fringe views, but widespread and local.

We asked if the Minister saw that as an issue, and if the Welsh Government had any discussions with Facebook about what they publish and promote.

The Minister replied: “I haven’t had direct discussions with Facebook but I know there are regular conversations between governments across the world and not just Facebook, but other social media platforms, about the erroneous and misleading information that circulates on those individual social media platforms.

“This is a real and present danger. It was not that long ago, we were having conversation with the number of lives that were being lost each week.

“I want those platforms to be responsible and to promptly remove misleading and dangerous information. It could not be more serious or more urgent, it is a global public health emergency that has taken countless lives across the globe.

“Here in the UK tens of thousands of people have lost their lives. In Wales, more than two and a half thousand people have lost their lives.

“Social media platforms should be part of the answer, and not part of the problem.”

The Caerphilly Observer also asked the Minister about anxious businesses in the town subject to the lockdown restrictions, and asked what support Welsh Government could offer for those enterprises affected.

The Minister answered generally, pointing to the behaviour of people affecting the future, said: “If people want to have a different future where business can operate as they still can and the rest of Wales, it’s even more important that people follow the rules because I would like to remove these restrictions in Caerphilly as soon as possible. We’ll only do that when it is safe to do so.”

The Minister added: “We regularly review the support we are able to provide across the country and indeed within local areas, but I don’t have a package of individual support to announce for individual businesses. I’m not going to make it up on the spot.”

With a third question attempted from the Caerphilly Observer nipped in the bud from the Minister who said he was ‘not going to have a row’, we re-asked on the theme of their question, pointing out business rates grants, furlough and the Economic Resilience Fund were directly brought in to mitigate the impacts of the first lockdown – with some of that support direct from Welsh Government. We asked if it was reasonable to expect some kind of support for businesses inside such restricted areas.

Mr Gething replied: “Those conversations will carry on with not just the council, but also with colleagues here in the economy and transport division.

“My job though, is to take a lead on the public health response and that’s exactly what I’ve done.

“We’ve had to act really quickly. The previous question about why we didn’t act earlier – Well we had these warnings when we had them we can see the increase in cases and we’ve had to act now.

“We’re going to need to consider how we can support people to work through this, but there is, of course, a limit to the economic firepower and financial firepower that the Welsh Government has.

“Even with additional sums that have come through the COVID pandemic, we’re spending lots more on keeping people safe. The way we run the health service, for example, has become much more expensive.

“The significant additional costs in PPE provision, the significant additional reality that we can’t deal with as many procedures as possible. So many things are more expensive to do now and we’re going to need to consider what we can do within the Welsh Government and the conversations we have across the UK.

“Of course, these support measures are not just an issue for Caerphilly, other parts of the UK with local lockdowns have sought this sort of support and as of yet, we haven’t seen a sustained response from the UK Government which has the financial means to deliver a scheme for the whole of the UK, not just for businesses, of course, but for people who are needing to self isolate.

“We do understand there’s growing evidence that people are more likely to follow the self isolation rules if they don’t suffer a significant financial penalty in doing so and that’s a matter we continue to press the UK Government.”

Community testing has taken place in Caerphilly, with the Minister saying today incidence rate there has now increased to 72.9 cases per hundred thousand – one of the highest rates within the UK

451 tests were carried out by a mobile testing unit in Caerphilly giving 19 positive results.

Wrexham saw similar mobile testing units last month, however despite 1,400 tests only 11 positive results were discovered, so more testing but less confirmed cases than Caerphilly.

Today Wales has 150 new confirmed cases on the daily updated data, with six new cases in Wrexham off 151 testing episodes.

Caerphilly has a 44 more off 949 testing episodes.

Over the last seven days Wrexham has seen 866 testing episodes with 23 confirmed cases.

Over the last fourteen days Wrexham has seen 2,305 testing episodes with 33 confirmed cases.

Over the last twenty one days Wrexham has seen 3,543 testing episodes with 43 confirmed cases.

You can view the full briefing and Q&A session on the below video:

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