'Why are we making so much of a fuss?' and other coronavirus questions answered by the health minister

2.4 million people in Wales are now living under lockdown measures once again Credit: PA

In recent weeks, many of us have once again found our lives subject to tight restrictions after coronavirus cases across Wales began to surge.

Sixteen areas of Wales are now under local lockdown measures, affecting more than two thirds of the population.

Health Minister Vaughan Gething says the new measures have been necessary to protect people’s health and control the spread of the virus.

But he admits that this has all happened "very quickly", resulting in "a lot of confusion about the virus and the action we’ve taken".

As a result, during Monday's coronavirus briefing, he attempted to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about the virus itself and the recent actions that have been taken to try to control its spread.

  • Why are we making so much of a fuss about coronavirus?

"Coronavirus is a new disease", Mr Gething told the briefing.

"35 million people have been infected worldwide and more than 1 million people have died.

"There are currently no drugs licensed to treat or prevent coronavirus anywhere in the world and there is no known cure. We do not have a vaccine but research continues.

"It is highly infectious and spreads quickly...

"And we don’t understand what the long-term impacts are. Many people who have recovered from coronavirus have ongoing health problems – what’s known as long-covid".

  • Don't more people die from flu every year than coronavirus?

"Every year we have a flu season, which sadly results in people dying – something we call excess winter deaths", Mr Gething told the briefing.

"This is why we encourage people who are at risk of flu – and our NHS and care staff – to get vaccinated every winter.

Last year in Wales, about 1,900 people died from flu and pneumonia Credit: PA

"Last year about 1,900 people died from flu and pneumonia in Wales.

"Sadly, there have already been more than 2,500 deaths involving coronavirus.

"People continue to die from coronavirus in Wales."

  • The number of people in hospital or dying is tiny – hasn't the threat been blown out of proportion?

"Over the last month, we’ve seen a rapid increase in cases across Wales", Mr Gething said.

"The virus returned as people came home from holiday abroad and was spread as people socialised without social distancing, crucially and most often in people's homes.

"The majority have had a mild illness so far. But an increase in cases is followed within two to three weeks by the start of higher hospital admissions, higher critical care admissions and more deaths.

"Last week, an average of 73 people a day were admitted to hospital with coronavirus.

73

people per day admitted to hospital with coronavirus

"The number of people in hospital with coronavirus has almost doubled in the last fortnight.

"And sadly, the number of people who are dying is increasing week on week.

"It is easy to forget what things were like just six months ago, when around 150 people were admitted to hospital a day with coronavirus and our intensive care units, including the additional capacity the NHS created, were very close to being overrun.

"If we can’t control the spread of this virus locally, we will see this happening again."

  • Why do other countries, like Sweden, which didn’t introduce lockdowns, have lower cases than us?

"I understand why it’s tempting to look to other countries, which didn’t go through the difficult months of a nationwide lockdown", the health minister responded.

People move quite freely and without face masks in Stockholm, Sweden Credit: PA

"But it’s not as simple as comparing the experience in Wales, or indeed the UK, with other countries, which didn’t lockdown.

"If we look at Sweden, it’s home to just 10m people and it’s almost twice the size of the UK.

"There have been more than 5,000 coronavirus deaths in Sweden, compared to hundreds in its Scandinavian neighbours, which introduced stricter measures."

  • Why can’t I see family but I can sit next to strangers in the pub?

"This is a question I often hear, it's been put to me before, and I do know from my own experience that it’s very difficult for families who have been separated by the pandemic", said Mr Gething.

"But if you’re going to a pub, you can’t sit with a stranger. You can only go to a pub with someone you live with or are in the same exclusive bubble with. Gathering with friends sitting on another table is not an exception to that rule.

Vaughan Gething says if you are going to a pub, you cannot sit with a stranger Credit: PA

"The law is very clear about what the owner and manager of a business must do to keep everyone who uses it safe.

"These cover everything from maintaining social distancing and collecting people’s details when booking a table to the cleaning regime, which needs to be followed.

"We do not – and would not – put similar laws in place to regulate people’s private homes in this way.

"Because so many cases of coronavirus have been linked to people gathering in other people’s homes, we’ve put limits on who and how many people we can meet socially indoors at home, in the pub and elsewhere. and, in areas under local restrictions, we have had to temporarily suspend bubbles, except for single people."     

  • Why are children still going to school when the virus is on the rise?

"We’ve been very clear we want children back in school learning alongside their classmates", the health minister said.

"Our schools, teachers and local authorities have worked really hard over the summer to make that happen.

Mr Gething says 8 out of 10 schools in Wales have not had a coronavirus outbreak since the start of autumn term Credit: PA

"More than eight out 10 schools in Wales have not had any cases of coronavirus since the start of the autumn term.

82%

of schools have had no coronavirus outbreaks since the start of autumn term

"We’ll continue to do all we can to make sure it’s safe to keep children in school because it is undoubtedly better for their long-term health and wellbeing to be in school with other pupils and their friends than to be missing out on another term of lessons."