Eluned Morgan Minister for Health and Social Services
The approach we continue to adopt is that COVID-19 is not over, and the transition from pandemic to endemic needs to be determined by the public health conditions at the time.
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 that may become dominant. These waves are not expected to put unsustainable pressure on the Health and Social Care system and vaccines and other pharmaceutical interventions will remain effective in preventing serious illness.
After an increase in cases of BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants during June we extended access to free lateral flow tests for members of the public with symptoms of COVID-19 until the 31 of July. The expectation was for the wave to reach its peak before the end of July. Advice from TAC, dated 22 July reported NHS pressures peaked in mid-July, and appear to have decreased since. There were around 18 hospital admissions for COVID-19 a day as of 26 July, following a peak of 28 admissions per day two weeks before. Overall deaths remain at lower levels compared to previous waves.
The ONS COVID-19 Infection Survey for the week ending 20 July estimated that 5.14% (1 in 19) of the community population in Wales had COVID-19, down from 6.03% (1 in 17) the previous week.
In view of the latest evidence, including decreasing prevalence, from 1 August we will pause provision of free lateral flow tests to members of the public with symptoms of COVID-19. This is consistent with our long-term COVID-19 transition from pandemic to endemic for Wales, published in March. It also ensures we safeguard resources for potential future waves during autumn/winter that may, alongside colder weather and other respiratory viruses, provide additional challenges and risks.
In line with our objective to protect the vulnerable we continue to provide the following under TTP:
- LFD and PCR testing for those eligible for COVID-19 treatments.
- LFD testing for people visiting those eligible for COVID-19 treatments.
- LFD testing for people visiting care homes.
- 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 at lower prevalence).
- 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.
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.
This statement is being issued during recess in order to keep members informed. Should members wish me to make a further statement or to answer questions on this when the Senedd returns I would be happy to do so.