Eluned Morgan Minister for Health and Social Services
Our long-term COVID-19 transition from pandemic to endemic for Wales, published in March, set out indicative timelines for the gradual transition for TTP.
We removed the last elements of the emergency legislation on the 30 May and have started to integrate COVID-specific approaches, including TTP, into our public health response for communicable diseases, and in particular respiratory infections. This has enabled us to use the infrastructure and capacity we have established for the COVID-19 response to support the programme for Ukraine refugees and our response to Monkeypox alongside COVID-19.
The approach we continue to adopt is that COVID-19 is not over, and the transition needs to be determined by the public health conditions at the time. Plans are also conscious of the need to retain the ability to scale back up our response under any COVID Urgent scenario, which we will do in a proportionate way if needed.
We will as set out in the plan cease self-isolation support payments and routine contact tracing on 30 June. This will align with our advice and communications on protective behaviours to stay at home when you have symptoms, regular hand washing and encouraging wearing of face coverings in crowded places and health and care settings.
Our objectives moving forward will continue to focus on:
- Protecting the vulnerable from severe disease by enabling access to vaccination, treatments; and safeguarding against the risk of infection.
- Maintaining capacity to respond to localised outbreaks and in high-risk settings.
- Retaining effective surveillance systems to identify any deterioration in the situation such as from harmful variants and mutations of concern; and
- Preparing for the possible resurgence of the virus
Our plan under COVID Stable recognised that we still expect to encounter additional waves of infection and new variants to emerge, and some may become dominant. But these waves will not put unsustainable pressure on the Health and Social Care system. Vaccines and other pharmaceutical interventions are expected to remain effective in preventing serious illness. We are encouraging people who are eligible for a spring booster jab to still come forward for vaccination before the 30 June if they have not already done so. This will ensure they have good protection between now and when a booster is offered in autumn. We are also urging parents to consider vaccinating their children before the 30 June deadline so that they are fully protected by the time the new school year begins in September, to minimise further disruption to their school life.
We are currently, after a gradual decline in cases and prevalence during the transition period, seeing an uptick in cases. The ONS survey for the week 5 to 11 June 2022 showed an increase across the UK and estimated that 2.13% (1 in 45) of the community population in Wales had COVID-19. The BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants are contributing to this increase as they become more dominant across the UK. Accumulating evidence from several countries indicates these sub-variants appear not to be more severe.
In line with our objective to protect the vulnerable we will from the 1 of July continue to provide:
- LFD and PCR testing for those eligible for COVID-19 treatments.
- PCR testing for COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses for symptomatic care home residents and prisoners.
- PCR and LFD testing in accordance with the patient testing framework and clinical judgement.
- LFD testing for symptomatic health and social care staff.
- LFD tests for regular asymptomatic testing for health and social care staff (This will be reviewed when the prevalence is between 1-2% and there is a higher risk of false positives).
- Extension of the COVID-19 Statutory Sick Pay Enhancement scheme until 31 August to support social care staff to stay away from work due to testing positive.
Due to the rise in infection rates associated with BA.4 and BA.5, over what is expected to be a short wave, we will also continue to provide free LFD tests up to the end of July for the general public that are symptomatic; and for people attending care homes and visiting someone eligible for new COVID-19 treatments. People testing positive will be advised to stay at home for 5 days and test they are negative at day 5 and 6.
We continue to work on our respiratory infection plan for autumn/winter and contingency for COVID Urgent and the possibility a new variant could emerge that has a high level of vaccine escape or other advantages that puts large numbers of people at risk of severe illness. I will provide further updates to Members on the plans before the autumn.