The peak of coronavirus cases in Wales has come “much earlier” than anticipated, Wales’ chief medical officer has confirmed.
Dr Frank Atherton, speaking to the press on Thursday from the Welsh Government headquarters at Cathays Park, Cardiff, said this was down to government measures and public adherence to them.
Public Health Wales announced that more than 900 people have now died in Wales after testing positive for Covid-19 and there are close to 10,000 cases overall.
Dr Atherton predicted at the very start of March, when Wales was seeing its first cases of the infection, that we would see an upsurge in cases in April, a possible peak towards May/June, and a downturn again in July/August.
Speaking on Thursday he said: “When we think back to where we were [in early March] it looked like we were on a period of exponential growth.
“We thought the peak would have been into May, June or July – somewhere within that range.
“We talked at the time about ‘flattening the curve’ so that we didn’t exceed the capacity in the NHS. In fact our measures in Wales and the UK have done more than flatten the curve. They have absolutely squashed the curve.
“So the numbers are much, much less than we expected and that’s why, we think, the peak has come earlier.”
This map shows the council areas that have recorded the most cases on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday
However he admitted by flattening the curve there was a risk of a “resurgence” of the virus if restrictions are lifted too soon.
“The modelling suggests that if we did open our measures too early in the UK we could see a second large wave which could continue into the autumn period, which would be really bad news because that’s the time the regular flu virus starts to circulate.
“We honestly do not know if there will be a second, third, or fourth peak but we have to assume at the moment that the disease will come back.”
According to latest NHS figures the number of patients in hospital with coronavirus in Wales dipped below 1,000 for the first time in more than three weeks on Wednesday.
There are also 101 patients with Covid-19 in hospital intensive care units – the lowest number since the start of April.
And of the 386 critical care beds available more than half (57%) of beds are vacant, with field hospitals across Wales barely being utilised.
When asked about whether it was time to start elective and non-urgent procedures in the Welsh NHS again – based on the fact critical care capacity appears to be managing so well – Dr Atherton said: “It’s one of my biggest worries that there is ‘hidden harm’ in the system.
“There is a discussion now with chief executives in local health boards, and from my perspective medical directors and directors of public health, about how we can ‘reopen’ and rejuvenate the NHS and bring back services which are no longer being provided in the volume that we are used to.”
Dr Atherton added that when lockdown restrictions are eased there would need to be a focus on community surveillance and tracking and tracing of cases.
“We need a much better understanding of how the virus is moving around in our populations and in those closed settings [of hospitals and care homes],” he said.
“We need a clear model on tracking and tracing cases – using a combination of digital means and old-fashioned public health shoe leather and contact tracing.
“We need to watch other countries in how they’re lifting measures.”