Omicron: Covid patients in Welsh hospitals highest since March as 'peak could be two weeks away'

  • First Minister Mark Drakeford gives Friday's coronavirus press briefing

The number of Covid patients in Welsh hospitals is at its highest since last March, the first minister has said, as he laid out the government's reasoning for keeping the country at Alert Level Two.

Speaking at Friday's coronavirus press briefing, Mark Drakeford said a total of 994 patients were in Welsh hospitals with coronavirus.

The peak of the current wave was still at least another ten to 14 days away, Mr Drakeford said.

The First Minister said: "As cases rise steeply in the community, the number of people admitted to hospital with Covid-19 is also rising.

"The latest figures show there are now a total of 994 Covid-19 patients in our hospitals - a rise of 43% compared to last week and the highest number since last March.

"This number is below the peak of last year but at the higher end of our forecasts.

"There are around 40 people with Covid-19 in critical care at the moment. The majority have not been vaccinated."

The NHS is beginning to feel the strain from staff absences, Mark Drakeford said. Credit: PA Images

Mr Drakeford also indicated the NHS was beginning to feel the strain from staff absences, with many staff having to miss work through illness or isolation.

"Omicron is putting significant pressure on the NHS at the busiest time of the year - not just from rising hospital admissions but through staff absences," he said.

"Our NHS workforce, which has worked so hard throughout the pandemic, is not immune to coronavirus.

"The latest figures suggest staff absences from illness and isolation across the NHS is 8.3% but it is as high as 16.5% in some NHS organisations."

Wales will remain in alert level two for at least another week, the Welsh Government confirmed earlier on Friday.

The restrictions include the rule of six in public places, two-metre social distancing and limits on the number of people who can attend events.

Mark Drakeford said he felt it was Boris Johnson and the UK Government who were the outliers in their coronavirus decision making Credit: PA Images

Asked if Wales was an outlier in its decision to stick to restrictions when compared with England - which has opted not to implement tougher measures - Mr Drakeford said he felt it was England that was different from other countries.

He said: "The outlier here is not Wales. Wales is taking action as is Scotland, as is Northern Ireland and as are countries right across Europe and right across the globe.

"The one country that stands out as not taking action to protect its population is England.

"So the question is not why is Wales not following what is going on in England, the real question is why is England such a global outlier in the way in which governments elsewhere are attempting to protect their populations from coronavirus."

Mr Drakeford claimed the UK Government was "politically paralysed" and unable to secure internal agreement on coronavirus measures.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he believes England can "ride out" the current Omicron coronavirus wave without the need to shut down the country.

There were 21 coronavirus deaths reported on Friday by Public Health Wales with another 7,915 new confirmed cases.

The all-Wales coronavirus infection rate currently stands at over 2,300 per 100,000 people.

Cases are highest in those aged between 20 and 40 although the first minister said infections were rising amongst older age groups, due to the high levels of community transmission.

Reacting to today's briefing, the Welsh Conservatives said the Welsh Government must now provide details of how and when it intends to end the current restrictions.

Party leader Andrew RT Davies said: "Labour ministers must now provide a roadmap out of restrictions in Wales.

"The modelling has been the basis for their imposition, and therefore should be the basis for their removal.

"We need to learn to live with the virus and it's important we give people and businesses hope."

There have been some changes to coronavirus regulations this week, with the Welsh Government scrapping rules around pre-departure covid tests for fully vaccinated travellers.

It was also announced that unvaccinated contacts of a positive case will now have to take lateral flow tests on days two and day eight of their isolation period, as opposed to taking a PCR test.

The move was designed to ease pressure on the PCR laboratory testing system, with Health Minister Eluned Morgan saying demand for PCR testing was at "unprecedented levels."

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