Leak reveals 30,000 daily tests needed by May 31 to track and trace coronavirus in Wales

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A leaked Public Health Wales report says any significant easing of the coronavirus lockdown would require a mass testing programme of around 30,000 tests a day, which it proposes to create by the end of the month.

The report estimates employing around 1,600 testers, working seven days a week in 94 local teams across Wales to meet the demand. They would not be existing PHW staff, who are required for more specialist tasks, instead they would be recruited from the wider public sector workforce.

Open recruitment is ruled out because they would be handling sensitive patient information.

The report refers to key milestones "to begin to relax the measures at a point in or around the second week in May."

7 May

Government consideration of restrictions

31 May

Need to complete operational readiness to deliver the plan.

It comes after First Minister Mark Drakeford told the Covid-19 briefing on May 4 that lockdown restrictions is the "primary focus" of the Welsh Government this week.

So that the teams aren't overwhelmed, the report calls for the creation of "digital systems" for Wales, to help to identify people for testing. The results would be analysed "in real time" to inform an all-Wales strategy for controlling the pandemic.

The report also outlines expanding drive through centres, mobile vans and home-testing over the coming weeks with priorities for testing including:

  • Testing specific groups of the population to inform public health action

  • Testing groups to check whether they have had the disease

  • Testing of key workers, or their family members as appropriate, to keep the essential services of Wales moving.

The report outlines expanding drive through centres, mobile vans and home-testing over the coming weeks. Credit: PA Images

The report acknowledges that joining with Public Health England's testing programme is a potential alternative approach.

This option is potentially readily available. However, the programme is delivered by the Department of Health and it is likely that it would result in a loss of control over the direction and effectiveness of the response in Wales.

Public Health Wales report

A Welsh Government spokesperson said a detailed delivery plan is being worked on this week and described the leaked report as "a draft overarching strategy". The 91 page report, which is marked "final version" and dated 29 April, calls for implementation to begin on Thursday.

Rhun ap Iorwerth, Plaid Cymru Shadow Health Minister said: "This outline document contains as many questions as answers. Worryingly, there is no clear commitment let alone a coherent strategy to drive transmission rates down to as close to zero as possible in line with the 'disease elimination' strategy followed successfully by the likes of South Korea and New Zealand.

“Moving to ‘Test, trace and isolate’ will require a sea change in testing capacity. 10,000 a day would be a good start but we may need 3 times that. It’s a huge challenge, but one we have to take on, in contrast to the Labour Government’s decision to scrap targets altogether.”

Angela Burns, Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Minister, said: "The Welsh Government scrapped their testing targets when they realised they couldn't hit them and are being coy with joining the UK's track and tracing app.

"How is Wales meant to be able to come out of the restrictions when there's this mammoth testing target the Welsh Government needs to hit? They need to stop chasing headlines or creating a distinctive Welsh approach and just get on with getting us through and out of Covid-19."

At the Welsh Government's daily news conference, the Health Minister, Vaughan Gething, said an ambitious testing programme was essential.

We also know that there are no simple solutions to the challenges that lie ahead, and no quick-fixes that will allow us to ease restrictions quickly.

Health Minister Vaughan Gething AM

The minister promised "concerted public health action at a scale never seen before" to identify people who have come in contact with suspected cases of Covid-19, so as to stop others becoming infected and spreading the disease further. He endorsed the requirement for what he called "a large and dedicated workforce" in local tracing teams.>Mr Gething pledged to publish the data so that everyone could see the progress Wales was making in the fight against coronavirus. He said he doubted that as many as 30,000 tests a day would be required.

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