By Zoe Kramer | Head of News
As of this week, it has been a year since the first COVID-19 death in Wales. First Minister Mark Drakeford reflected on the pandemic during this anniversary, announcing that two new woodlands will be created as a memorial to those who have died during the outbreak. Mr Drakeford also stressed the importance of holding a public inquiry into the pandemic. This investigation would not have to occur after the pandemic is completely over, but when the end is ambiguously in sight and the memories are still fresh.
Regarding the inquiry, Mr. Drakeford said: “It needs to be at the point when we can be confident that the pandemic is behind us.
“I don’t mean necessarily all over, but we are confident that we are emerging from it unambiguously.
“And then it needs to be an inquiry that is not simply Welsh because so much of what has happened to us in Wales has been linked to the wider UK picture.
“So, it needs to be at a time when we can draw all those threads together and then it will be absolutely right that we look back and learn the lessons of what has taken place.”
There have been some promising statistics lately, including that hospital admissions in Wales are at an all time low since the beginning of the pandemic, with a daily average of 37 admissions. Additionally, confirmed and suspected cases are currently at a fifth of what they were in December. The latest case rate is 39.1 cases per 100,000, which is the lowest it’s been since 16 September.
Still, these improvements do not mean that lockdown can be fully lifted again. The latest scientific projections show that due to new variants of the virus and increased mixing, there is likely to be a third wave of the virus from May into June.
Starting on March 22, non-essential retail will be able to reopen in phases, however this will depend on how the rates fluctuate. Opening shops too quickly could result in a third wave.
“We are trying to reopen Welsh society and the Welsh economy carefully, cautiously and step-by-step. This means you’ve got to do the least risky things first. You have to assess whether they’re having any adverse effect on the circulation of the virus. Even staying local will mean there are more risks to people than when they had to stay at home,” said Mr. Drakeford.
Wales’ Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Frank Atherton, said: “Our modelling scenarios suggest that overly-rapid relaxation combined with increased transmissibility of the now dominant variant and low public adherence to restrictions could lead to a third wave of virus circulation in late spring (May/June).
“If we are unable to avoid this scenario then it is likely that, despite the success of our vaccination programme, we would see a return in Wales to a period of high viral transmission with increased hospitalisations and deaths.”
The next review of COVID-19 restrictions will occur on April 2.