Wales is moving “swiftly towards the April peak" and has recorded one of its "deadliest weeks" since the height of the pandemic, the country’s health minister has said.
It comes after Wales entered its two-week “firebreak” lockdown – lasting until 9 November – which has resulted in the forced closure of non-essential retail, leisure and hospitality businesses to curb the spread of coronavirus.
Vaughan Gething said Wales had recorded more than 60 deaths related to the virus over the last seven days, “making last week one of the deadliest since the peak of the pandemic”.
He added that Public Health Wales on Monday recorded a further six people who had lost their lives. There are 616 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Welsh hospitals, the highest figure since May 24 and up 26 per cent on last Sunday.
Addressing cases of infection, Mr Gething said: “The latest information I have from our NHS shows that we have passed the milestone of having more than 1,000 coronavirus related cases in our hospitals in Wales.
“We are moving very swiftly towards the April peak – the point at which the NHS came very close to being overwhelmed. But in the spring we had already postponed all planned operations and appointments.
“If we carry on at this rate we will reach that same point within a matter of weeks. The number of people being treated in our critical care units with coronavirus has also risen sharply since last week. There are 56 people in critical care with coronavirus.”
He said the NHS in Wales was increasing its critical care capacity to 292 beds, if needed, but warned it would come with repercussions for hospitals’ other functions.
“This type of expansion comes with real harms,” he said. “The areas that are transformed tend to be theatres and recovery wards. Turning them into critical care areas means we need to bring staff in from other parts of hospital and our ability to maintain surgery becomes even more squeezed and reduced. That in turns has a direct impact on patient care and people’s lives.”
Amid confusion over Wales’s ban on the sale of non-essential items during the two-week firebreak lockdown to tackle the spread of the virus, he added the Welsh government would meet with retailers later today to “review the regulations and guidance” to ensure consistency.
“If there are anomalies we will look at whether the guidance will need to be revised, or strengthened, to make it clear that supermarkets have some discretion to sell to people who are in genuine need,” he told the daily Covid-19 briefing.
Mr Gething added: “Supermarkets are open and trading as are many other shops, and are able to sell a wide range of everyday items that we all need. But there are some other items that won’t be on sale for the next two weeks. These are items that other high street shops that are currently closed can’t sell at the moment.
“We very face a very real public health emergency in Wales. We have a two-week period in which we need to do everything we can to break the cycle of transmission.
“We’ve listened carefully to what people have been saying, so we will take action today so that retailers understand that our rules already allow people in acute need to buy the basics which are essential to them over the next two weeks. But we also ask people to understand they very real crisis we are facing at the moment in Wales and to please treat people working in our shops with the respect they deserve."