Worst of second wave ‘over’ but health minister warns of new variant setbacks

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The coronavirus situation is improving in Wales, suggesting "we are over the worst of the second wave", according to Wales' Health Minister.

Vaughan Gething told a press conference on Friday that the overall case rate for Wales is now at around 50 per 100,000 people - the lowest it has been since mid-September.

He added that the R number remains below 1 but new variants of the virus, like the more infectious Kent strain, are still a concern.

The Kent variation is the most dominant strain of the virus in Wales.

Despite taking a "cautious approach out of lockdown" because of concerns over new variants, Mr Gething said Welsh Government is considering lifting 'stay-at-home' measures and bringing back the 'stay local' rule instead on March 12.

The Health Minister told a press briefing that the number of Covid patients in Welsh hospitals is at its lowest since mid-October.

The Health Minister said coronavirus cases are falling across Wales while the number of people in hospital with the virus also continues to drop.

Latest figures from Public Health Wales show that another 230 cases of the virus have been confirmed in Wales in the past 24 hours whilst another 12 Covid-deaths have been reported.

Mr Gething added that the vaccination programme has meant "we may be seeing a faster-than-anticipated fall in the number of people admitted to hospital".

On Thursday, there were fewer than 450 people with confirmed coronavirus in Welsh hospitals - the lowest number since 17 October. There has also been a reduction in the number of Covid patients in critical care.

"All this is really positive and suggests that we are over the worst of the second wave of the virus in Wales", said the Health Minister.

However this good news came with a warning. Mr Gething said the improving situation does not "mean we can afford to let down our guard."

He reinforced that Welsh Government will be taking a gradual approach to lifting lockdown restrictions. Any changes to the rules are expected to be announced on March 12 as part of the next review.

Mr Gething said as part of that review, Welsh Government are considering lifting 'stay-at-home' measures but a 'stay local' rule could be brought in instead - although no official decision has been made yet.

The Health Minister praised Wales' Covid vaccination programme as nearly 1 million people here have received a first dose.

The new, mutated strains of coronavirus are a particular concern as Mr Gething said they "can cause the pandemic to take a new turn."

"We are closely monitoring these because of the risk of severe disease and because they may limit the effectiveness of our current vaccines," he said.

"This is particularly important as we emerge from this lockdown because the highly infectious Kent strain of the virus is now the most dominant form of the virus in Wales."

The Health Minister also praised Wales' vaccination programme and said: "We currently have the best vaccination rate in the UK and a greater proportion of people in Wales have had both doses of the vaccine in Wales than in any other part of the country."

More than 967,4042 people have received the first dose of the vaccine in Wales so far.

Mr Gething added that an increase in vaccine supplies is expected in the coming days meaning "we can accelerate the delivery of vaccines to people in groups five to nine".

Welsh Government aim to have offered the vaccine to every eligible adult in Wales by the end of July.

  • Watch: Welsh Government coronavirus press briefing