Wales’ top doctor says there are three key components for the Welsh Government to consider when deciding whether to relax lockdown restrictions.
Dr Frank Atherton, Wales’ chief medical officer, said during Wednesday’s coronavirus briefing that giving advice on when to ease restrictions was a “complex equation rather than a simple figure”.
While he couldn’t give an exact time on when certain areas of society should re-open again, such as schools, he said there were three things to analyse.
“We need to look at the community transmission rates, the capacity within the NHS to ensure it doesn’t get overloaded, and now the percentage of people who have been vaccinated,” he said.
Dr Atherton said Wales needed to learn from how it came out of previous lockdowns, including the 17-day fire-break which only managed to reduce infection rates for a short period of time.
“What we saw was even though rates came down quite well when we released things we did so in a way that allowed the virus to recirculate and re-establish itself very quickly,” he admitted.
“As we do get some headroom for releasing these measures what we need to do is release them very cautiously.”
One of the biggest priorities, Dr Atherton stressed, was the re-opening of schools and a return to face-to-face learning.
“That will be one of the things we aim to do first although I can’t give an absolute figure for when it’s suitable to open schools.”
Check latest coronavirus figures in your area:
Dr Rob Orford, the chief scientific adviser for health in the Welsh Government, said Wales needed to be “very careful” when easing restrictions due to the more infectious Kent variant which is now present in all regions of Wales at “levels of 50% or more”.
He said: “It looks like it grows faster and retracts more slowly so we need to consider that in the complex modelling that we carry out. We are monitoring the situation very closely. We are working with academic partners and public health agencies across the UK.”
Dr Orford confirmed “many thousands” of mutations of the virus have already arisen globally since late 2019.
“The vast majority of these have no apparent effect on the virus. Only a very small minority are likely to be important and change the virus in any meaningful way,” he added.
“Some could change the virus’ ability to infect people – making it more contagious or make the illness more severe.
“Mutations can also change the way the virus interacts with the immune system, including the response generated by a vaccine.
“We pay particular attention to mutations in the gene that encodes the Spike protein, which is associated with viral entry into cells and is relevant to immunity and vaccine efficacy.”
Latest Public Health Wales data shows the seven-day rolling case rate as 203.8 per 100,000 population, a huge drop from the 650 seen in the middle of December.
More than 312,000 people have had their first dose of the vaccine since December 8.