Wales’ chief medical officer has said why he thinks why one part of Wales has substantially more cases of coronavirus than the rest of the country.
Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, which covers Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Newport, Torfaen and Monmouthshire, has almost as many cases as the rest of Wales combined.
Figures on Wednesday showed that the health board had a total of 309, while the overall Wales number stood at 628. The rate per 100,000 people is significantly higher than the rest of Wales.
Its director of public health, Sarah Aitken, said the area could be “following Italy” and facing being overwhelmed by a rapid increase in coronavirus cases.
On Tuesday, it was announced that an 80-year-old woman died after contracting coronavirus at the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport where she had gone in for a routine operation.
Retired cleaner and keen golfer Marita Edward is believed to be the first person to die from a hospital-acquired infection of Covid-19.
On Thursday, Chief Medical Officer Dr Frank Atherton gave a reason for the surge in cases in this particular part of Wales.
He said: “Aneurin Bevan has seen a higher number of cases than elsewhere in Wales, and there’s a few reasons for that.
“First of all, it is closer to England. We know that the ‘hotspot’ in the UK is around London, and so being on the border with England is an issue.
“The second reason is that there has been a lot more testing in that particular health board, so as a natural consequence there has been more cases identified.”
But he stressed that as the epidemic unfolds in Wales, there will be areas which “flare up” with cases and then “calm down a bit”.
“It’s a complex issue. The underlying message is that the virus is circulating widely in all parts of Wales. At the moment it may be circulating to a higher degree in South Wales but that may change over time.
“It’s a very fluid, very dynamic situation that we are trying to keep a watch on.”
Dr Atherton said that 3,300 patients have been tested since the outbreak began in Wales, but stressed that things would be “ramped up” in the coming days.
Currently around 800 tests were being carried out each day in Wales, with this expected to rise to 1,100 a day by next week and 3,000 by the end of April, he added.
Dr Atherton said healthcare staff were being prioritised for testing at present, such as those isolated at home so they can return to work. But he confirmed testing would be expanded to social care staff and then moved to areas of public service and to the community.
“We can’t be under any illusion that this is going to be a very challenging time for our NHS,” he said on Thursday.
“We are asking staff to work in unprecedented times. The whole strategy in the UK is to delay the epidemic curve so they we have time to prepare, to build up our critical care and ventilatory support that we know people are going to be needing.
“But it’s going to tight, it’s going to be difficult, it’s going to be hard for staff – there’s no doubt about that. But staff are stepping up magnificently to that challenge.”
He added: “We are in preparing mode. Things are currently quite quiet in our hospitals but we know there may be difficult times ahead.”
Dr Atherton said even though radical measures had now been put in place to reduce social contact, there would be a “lag time” for these to take effect in terms of the numbers of cases and deaths seen in Wales and the rest of the UK.
He anticipated a continuing rise in cases and deaths for the next couple of weeks.