'Second firebreak cannot be ruled out' as highest number of Covid patients in Welsh hospitals, says health minister

Credit: PA

There are more than 1,800 coronavirus-related patients in hospitals around Wales - the highest number ever recorded, health minister Vaughan Gething has said.

Leading Monday's Welsh Government press conference, he said Wales was the only part of the UK where infection rates did not appear to be falling in the last week of November.

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It comes as the Pfizer vaccine is due to be rolled out across the UK from tomorrow, but Mr Gething warned if there is no reduction in coronavirus admissions, "we will need to consider what action we can take" to support the NHS as into the New Year.

A second firebreak lockdown after Christmas cannot be ruled out as "everything is on the table", Mr Gething said.

"We've learned that trying to have hard and fast commitments to never contemplate future action is just not the right or the responsible thing to do. So, of course, that's an option that we'll need to consider."

Mr Gething said the Welsh Government would receive advice from its chief scientific adviser, public health experts and the chief medical officer for Wales.

Public Health Wales said two people have died from coronavirus on Monday, taking the total number of people who've died from it to 2,711.

There have been a further 2,021 cases of coronavirus in Wales, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 91,013.

There are now eight local authorities with rates higher than 400 cases per 100,000 people – four times as many areas as on Friday.

There were 800 new cases reported in the last two days alone in the Swansea Bay region. Infection rates in Neath Port Talbot is currently 622 cases per 100,000 population per week and in Swansea the figure is 446 cases per 100,000 population per week.

Tougher restrictions on the hospitality industry and indoor venues were introduced on Friday, but the impact of this will take "a couple of weeks", Mr Gething said.

Mr Gething was firm in his response when asked about the timeline of when care home residents and staff will be able to receive the Covid-19 vaccine and said they will not be able to deliver the Pfizer vaccine in the immediate roll-out this week.

Vaughan Gething said the vaccination of care home residents and staff will "not be tomorrow" Credit: PA

"We are working with Pfizer and our officials see how we can safely and lawfully deliver the vaccine to care homes and that won’t be tomorrow. We will not be able to deliver this vaccine to care homes tomorrow. It is important to get approval and agreement from regulators and we think we will be able to do that before Christmas."

But, he did confirm that every health board will be vaccinating people from Tuesday.

"We will be starting tomorrow and there will be opportunities to see those taking places. Vaccinations we get will provide to just under 19,000 people with our share of that."

Mr Gething said there has been "no corner cutting" in the approval of the vaccine Credit: PA

Mr Gething reassured people that there had been "no corner cutting" in the approval of the vaccine.

"What the community did was they accelerated the research that would need to be done. Our independent regulator gave approval, it doesn’t get given by the government or politicians. That will give people reassurance that they can have trust and faith in us."

"The great majority of people will want to get protected. There are always people who are concerned about new treatments of any kind, so this won't be a process where we'll say, 'If you decline an opportunity to have the vaccine first time around, then you'll never get it again", but I'd ask people to think about the choices they make for themselves and for other people.

"I think when we start to see more people having protection over the months ahead, that will deal with some people are concerned but from my point of view, when I'm told by the NHS, I will definitely be having the vaccine myself, but I won't be jumping the queue ahead of other people."

He also announced the Welsh Government will be extending the £500 payment scheme criteria from next Monday to include parents and carers on low incomes of children who have to self-isolate because of an outbreak of coronavirus at their school or childcare setting.