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Fears short-lasting lockdowns could lead to yo-yo diet of firebreaks in Wales – North Wales Live

Public health data suggests the second Covid wave in Wales is starting to ease just as the country heads out of its 17-day firebreak.

By the end of this week the spread of infection had begun to slow and hospital patient numbers had fallen slightly.

However experts and politicians have warned this does not mean Wales is out of the woods and that the situation remains critical.

Case numbers will continue to rise and infection rates could rebound quickly and sharply, said health minister Vaughan Gething.

Virologists have said “yo-yo” lockdowns are possible in the wake of short-lasting firebreaks such as the one used in Wales.

Much will depend on how well the public observes post-firebreak restrictions, said Mr Gething.

“We need to stop thinking about the maximum limit of rules and regulations,” he said.

“We cannot go back to the way we were living our lives before the firebreak.”

On Friday, the pan-Wales infection rate stood at 252.8 cases per 100,000 people.

“Over the past we have been bumping around at 250 to 260 cases per 100,000 people,” said the health minister.

“We haven’t seen significant exponential growth beyond that.”

Last Wednesday the country’s hospitals had more Covid-related patients that at the April peak.

The numbers included people with suspected and confirmed Covid-19, and those recovering from the virus.

Since then numbers have fallen back slightly as patients are discharged or die, according to Public Health Wales figures.

“However it’s still growing, it’s still at a high rate, and over the next month or so more people will end up in NHS hospitals,” Mr Gething cautioned.

Welsh Government health minister Vaughan Gething gives a coronavirus press briefing

Welsh Government health minister Vaughan Gething gives a coronavirus press briefing

Data from the Office for National Statistics suggests the spread of infection began to slow a fortnight ago.

Swab test analysis indicated that, in the week up to October 31, some 26,100 people in Wales had coronavirus – about one in 110 people.

This was just 1,000 more than the previous week, when positive tests rose by 9,400.

These figures suggest local lockdowns may have begun to have an impact just as the firebreak was being imposed.

Likewise, full impacts of the firebreak may be another week or two away.

First indicator of success, said Mr Gething, would be a fall in positive tests, followed by declines in hospital admissions and, further down the line, a drop in the number of deaths.

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Given high infectivity in parts of South Wales – at the end of the week Merthyr Tydfil had the highest numbers in the UK – some medical experts have called for the firebreak to be extended.

Dr Dai Samuel, a consultant hepatologist at Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board, told BBC Wales that lockdown should continue in Merthyr Tydfil “for weeks, even months”.

Cardiff has been accused of ending the firebreak because it said it would, not because it should.

Yet ministers insist failure to lift restrictions tomorrow would lead to a breakdown in public trust.

“We always said there would be a start and an end point,” said Mr Gething.

“If we had said there might have been a conditional third week, or that we might extend it further, I don’t think the reaction would have been positive.

“The buy-in to support the firebreak would not have been what it is.”

A new Covid-19 testing centre was opened in Wrexham during the firebreak

A new Covid-19 testing centre was opened in Wrexham during the firebreak
(Image: Hadyn Iball / North Wales Live)

That public resolve may be tested in the coming weeks and months as Covid-fatique sets in.

Mr Gething will not be drawn on speculation that a second Welsh firebreak may be needed in December to enable family get-togethers over Christmas.

But Dr Elisabetta Groppelli, a virologist at St George’s University of London, warned that short-duration lockdowns can lead to a “yo-yo diet” of firebreaks.

A 17-day lockdown is not enough to prompt a drastic change in infection rates as it is barely longer than the maximum incubation period for Covid-19, she told BBC Radio Wales.

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However Wales firebreak will at least give the country “breathing space” to reset its testing and hospital operations.

“A firebreak does not put out the fire,” she said.

“The fire is still within Wales, and still outside Wales, so the situation remains very, very critical.

“It is difficult to find a balance between measures which are long enough to have an effect, and which also have the least impact on people and society.

“So the threat of yo-yo firebreaks is definitely there, it is a real risk.”

When coming out of lockdown it was critical that curbs were eased only slowly, said Dr Groppelli.

Yet for most parts of Wales, restrictions will be less onerous than before the firebreak.

Dr Groppelli said the public had a collective duty to not to test the limits of this greater freedom.

“It’s not about what we can,” she said. “It’s about what we should do.”

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