Advice presented to First Minister on review of lockdown arrangements.
Chief Medical Officer advice
I have reviewed the proposed amendments to the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020 which include the following:
- to re-open premises:
- swimming pools
- leisure centres, indoor fitness centres and gyms
- indoor play areas
- to exempt attending an exercise class or a session with a personal trainer from the Regulation on Indoor Gatherings
- to a technical amendment which would allow community centres to re-open for all activities allowable in the Regulations and for them to provide public services without having to seek approval from local authorities.
- to agree to amend the principal Regulations to strengthen the provisions on enforcement
I recommend that these amendments are adopted alongside the appropriate cleaning regimes and social distancing measures in place as set out in the relevant guidance for these specific settings.
There remains a stable picture of coronavirus transmission in Wales; the growth rate is declining by 3-5% a day and there is a continuing small number of daily positive tests. The death rate continues to decline and I note that overall seasonal mortality is below average.
Local spikes in coronavirus have been experienced, and the Test, Trace and Protect system has been effective in responding to outbreaks in Ynys Mon and Merthyr. There are on-going outbreaks in Wrexham which are being supported by a range of partners including Public Health Wales and the Health and Safety Executive. In addition, locality-wide community testing is being implemented to bring the site specific outbreaks to an end.
These prevailing conditions and the surveillance systems we now have in place are conducive to some limited further easement of our national restrictions. I note, however, the experiences of other countries like Spain, Germany, Belgium and Australia which are having to re-introduce tougher rules such as limiting the numbers of people gathering, curfews and mandatory face coverings, as a result of a rising number of cases, spikes and outbreaks when their lockdown measures were lifted. Other countries are experiencing uncontrolled outbreaks such as parts of the USA, several South America countries, countries in the Balkans and India. These countries may have eased their restrictions too quickly, whereas the cautious approach which has been adopted in Wales may have led to a tighter control of the pandemic which allows greater scope for easement at this time.
Closer to home, we see that local restrictions have been imposed in Northern England and I am aware of concerns in Scotland and Northern Ireland as the number of cases is increasing possibly as a consequence of increased contact through the hospitality sector. This week has seen the re-opening of the hospitality sector here in Wales: I recognise the economic and social benefits this brings not least because the sector is a major source of employment for younger people and people from a variety of minority backgrounds. It will take time to assess the impact that the re-opening of the sector will have on our public health and it is the accumulation of this together with other changes such as the influx of tourists to Wales, Welsh citizens returning to work or from holidays abroad and children going back to school in the autumn, that will need to be carefully monitored and managed so that we maintain viral suppression. We will need to be prepared to respond quickly to resurgence of infection.
I support the on-going cautious approach to the process of easements that is being adopted; this allows for the monitoring of these slow and gradual changes, in ways that will help the economy to rebound and allows further consideration of removing indoor restrictions.
Dr Frank Atherton
Chief Medical Officer
7 August 2020