Covid: Officials warn they 'expect cases of India variant to rise' with majority of cases in Cardiff

  • Catch up with the Welsh Government's coronavirus press briefing

Wales' Chief Medical Officer says he expects cases of the so-called Indian variant of coronavirus to rise, with the variant found in nearly every health board area.

Speaking at Monday's Welsh Government's press briefing, Dr Frank Atherton said people across Wales need to remain cautious as society reopens.

He told journalists: "There are currently around 57 cases that have been identified here in Wales - so the number is going up, and has gone up over the last few days. It’s something that we need to watch very carefully."

Dr Atherton said cases are dotted around Wales, with a specific cluster in Cardiff.

"The majority at the moment are in Cardiff and Vale health board area. In fact, all health boards have seen cases of the so-called Indian variant, except for Powys," he said.

Dr Atherton said the 57 cases identified will be an "underestimate" and there will be other unconfirmed cases, adding: "I do expect those numbers to rise.

"We're keeping a very close watch. As we've seen repeatedly throughout the pandemic, there are lots of uncertainties and things can go awry very quickly if we take our eye off the ball.

"Variants [of coronavirus] can be more transmissible, and we believe this variant is."

Of the cases found in Wales, he said: "We're managing them as clusters and that's a really important point, because if we look across the border into England and certainly up into Scotland, Glasgow area, what seems to be happening there is that there is broader widespread community transmission - and that's a much more difficult thing to contain."

Dr Atherton said the situation will be kept under review by health experts.

When asked if the public should be worried, he said: "The public should be worried about the resurgence of coronavirus in general, really.

"We have to proceed cautiously with the relaxing of the restrictions that we have in place here in Wales - we have to keep a very close eye on case numbers and rates, and we have to make sure that everyone understands there are things that we can all do in order to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe."

Wales' new Health Minister has also urged people not to travel abroad unless "absolutely essential".

Eluned Morgan MS was appointed just over a week ago, having succeeded Vaughan Gething MS, who is now Economy Minister.

Ms Morgan, who led Monday's press conference for the first time in her new role, encouraged people to holiday in Wales as the fight against coronavirus continues.

She added: "There’s been a lot of attention on international travel over the past few days, and in the recent miserable weather it's understandable that many people will be tempted by the promise of sun and holidays abroad.

"But we would strongly ask you not to travel just yet... otherwise we risk bringing the virus - or, more worryingly, a new variant - back home with us to Wales."

Ms Morgan said people getting both doses of their coronavirus vaccine would help to protect people against the virus, particularly new variants.

She added: "We’re at a stage now where we’ve got 80% of adults in Wales who have received their first dose, we’ve got a third of adults in Wales who have received their second dose - even 50% of people from 18 to 29 have received their first dose.

"So we’re really doing incredibly well in Wales, and that’s the best way for us to deal with this new variant that is causing some concern amongst scientists at the moment."

The Health Minister said it's important that everyone gets both doses of the coronavirus vaccine. Credit: PA Images

Meanwhile, Ms Morgan told journalists the recovery of the NHS is her "key priority".

She said being Health Minister is "an honour and a huge responsibility", adding: "I’ll do my best to look after our NHS and our care system, so it can continue to do an incredible job in looking after us."

Ms Morgan previously said tackling NHS waiting lists would be a "gargantuan" task in light of the pandemic, with services under a huge amount of strain.

The Welsh Government has already announced a £100 million investment aimed at reducing the record backlog plaguing the health system and "kick-starting" the recovery from the pandemic.

More than 568,367 patients in Wales were waiting for planned treatment in March 2021, including surgeries such as hip and knee replacements, post-mastectomy breast reconstructions and ear, nose and throat operations.

This is the highest number on record since data first started being collected in 2011.

Highlighting the impact of the pandemic, the figures for March 2021 also show over 216,418 patients had waited more than 36 weeks for their treatment. The figure for March 2020 was 28,294 people.

Eluned Morgan MS led the press briefing for the first time as Wales' newly-appointed health minister. Credit: Welsh Government

But Ms Morgan warned that "no one should be under any illusions about the task ahead of us" and said patience and teamwork would be key to bringing those numbers down.

"We’re aware that there are thousands of people who are struggling in pain in Wales and we’re determined to tackle this issue," she said.

On Monday, ITV News heard from 81-year-old Stella Dixon, whose vision is affected by cataracts - particularly her ability to read, watch television, use the computer or even follow recipes.

Stella, who also suffers headaches, eye pain and tiredness due to her cataracts, was told she might have to wait for two years or longer to receive treatment on the NHS.

Instead, she has decided to use the money she got from her husband's life insurance when he passed away three years ago in order to seek private treatment.

Stella said: "I didn't want to wait two years, because at my age, with my mobility getting worse, I really felt that I wanted it before."She said being unable to do the things she loves would leave her "miserable", adding: "I'm not subject to depression, but I think I would be miserable, because life would have lost its quality."

One focus in the months ahead will be on so-called 'long Covid', where people remain ill for weeks or months after contracting the virus.

NHS midwife Sarah Sutton from Swansea contracted coronavirus in March 2020 and is still affected now.

Sarah said she has gone from being a busy, active working mum to being so exhausted that she can barely get out of bed, even showering less frequently as it's too physically tiring.

  • Long Covid patient Sarah Sutton describes her symptoms from head to toe

Sarah told ITV News: "There's brain fog - I do things wrong, I forget words. I didn't drive for months because I didn't feel I was safe - decision-making, concentrating, that sort of thing.

"I've got tinnitus in [one] ear and can constantly feel my pulse racing, so that's quite distracting.

"You constantly feel like you've got a lump in your throat; like you've got something sat on your chest - a sort of pressure. Shortness of breath all the time, even just here talking to you. Pins and needles, my fast heart rate, palpitations or skipped beats.

"I'm on medication for pains in my legs - nerve damage, I think it could be. My hands and feet now are ice blocks most of the time. Vibrations inside you... my right leg gets a tremor in it and it just sort of bounces around on its own. There's loads of stuff.

"There have been some particularly dark moments, most recently in February, where I just thought 'I can't deal with this any more'."

The health minister has said she is particularly concerned about the effects of long Covid and on Monday promised: "Those struggling will not be left without support.

"Long Covid affects all ages, which is yet another reason why we need to keep cases as low as possible."

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