Posted: Mon 17th Jan 2022

“There is room for cautious optimism” that covid is moving to endemic stage, says Wales’ CMO

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This article is old - Published: Monday, Jan 17th, 2022

“There is room for cautious optimism” about the direction the pandemic is heading in, said Wales’ chief medical officer Dr Frank Atherton.

The CMO said he hopes the pandemic is moving to an endemic stage where Covid “becomes a seasonal infection like flu or the common cold that circulates every year.”

Speaking to BBC Radio Wales this morning, Dr Atherton said that although “we are still in the midst of this omicron wave of infection” “things have changed really quite significantly over the last week”.

He said the data is difficult to interpret just after Christmas and “some policy changes in Wales” around not requiring a complimentary PCR test when people have a positive lateral flow test” has created some “noise in the signal.”

“But even if you take those into account it looks like community rates are falling, but they do remain very high,” Dr Atherton explained.

“The hospitalisation rate is still quite high, but that again has been reducing a little bit or at least the rate of increase of hospitalisation has been slowing down.”

He added that Wales is in “quite a favourable position” and that “it is what we predicated would happen towards the middle and late January”.

Asked if could see “light at the end of the tunnel” when it comes to the pandemic, he said: “I do see some lights, I have some cautious optimism.”

The current wave seems to be diminishing, that’s great news.

“Come March, I would hope that rates will be much lower, community rates will continue to be much lower and the hospitalisation rates will fall back.

“If that’s the case, then we have the prospect of a reasonable spring and into early summer.

“We do have in our population very high levels of immunity either by natural infection or by our fantastic vaccination programme.”

“Over 90 per cent of people (in Wales) have got some antibodies against Coronavirus that stands us in good stead.”

However he warned that there is still uncertainty around whether the virus will mutate further into a more virulent variant.

Dr Atherton said:  “What we don’t know of course is what is around the corner.”

“We have seen with Coronavirus it can come back to bite us, we don’t know the big unknown and what might happen in terms of new variants which might generate anywhere in the world and so we have to guard against that.”

He added: “There is room for cautious optimism, we do need to learn to live with the virus, we need to move from this pandemic stage to the endemic where hopefully Coronavirus becomes a seasonal infection like flu or the common cold that circulates every year.”

“That would be a good outcome and something that we may well be moving towards but it is a bit too early to say, we just have to be cautious.”

“I’m looking forward to getting back towards some semblance of normality and I think it’s good that we are in Wales moving towards COVID level zero which the First Minister announced last week.”

If conditions allow, the alert level two restrictions will be removed in a phased approach.

On Friday, first minister Mark Drakeford said Wales is past the peak of the Omicron wave of Coronavirus and has set out a timetable to lift the current alert level two restrictions.

Restrictions brought in on Boxing Day impacting large events and hospitality will be scrapped within two weeks under new plans.

With Covid figures falling, ministers have decided they can now set out a timetable for lifting restrictions, starting with rules around outdoor activities.

The number of people who can be present at outdoor events rose on Saturday from 50 to 500.

From Friday 21 January Wales would move to alert level zero for all outdoor activities. This means there will be no limits on the number of people who can take part in outdoor activities.

  • Crowds will be able to return to outdoor sporting events
  • Outdoor hospitality would be able to operate without additional reasonable measures.
  • The Covid Pass will be required for entry to larger outdoor events.

If the downward trend continues, from Friday 28 January Wales would move to alert level zero for all indoor activities.

  • Nightclubs will be able to re-open.
  • Working from home would remain important but it would no longer be a legal requirement.
  • Businesses, employers and other organisations must undertake a specific coronavirus risk assessment and take reasonable measures to minimise the spread of coronavirus.
  • The Covid Pass will be required for entry to nightclubs, events, cinemas, concert halls and theatres.
  • The rule of 6, table service and 2m physical distancing no longer required in hospitality.
  • The self-isolation rules for all those who test positive for Covid and the face covering rules for most public indoor places will remain in force after 28 January.

If conditions allow, the alert level two restrictions will be removed in a phased approach.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “I want to thank everyone for following the rules we have had in place since Boxing Day to help keep Wales safe while the fast-moving omicron variant has surged through our communities.

“I also want to thank everyone involved in our vaccination programme for the enormous efforts to give almost a third of the population a booster since the start of December – this has been vital in increasing our protection against omicron.

“The actions we have taken together have helped us to weather the omicron storm. The latest data suggests some positive signs that the peak may have passed.

“We can now look more confidently to the future and plan to start gradually removing the alert level two restrictions, starting with the outdoors measures.

“But the pandemic is not over. We will closely monitor the public health situation – this is a fast-moving and volatile variant, which could change suddenly.

“I urge everyone to continue to follow the rules and have your vaccines to keep Wales safe.”

The three-weekly cycle would be re-introduced from 10 February, when the Welsh Government will review all remaining measures at alert level zero.

 



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