This is the Winter Protection Plan, which outlines how Wales is going to deal with Covid-19 as the cold weather arrives
The Welsh Government has set out its « Winter Protection Plan », outlining how Wales is going to deal with Covid-19 as the cold weather arrives.
Experts agree that the most dangerous time for the virus to spread is the winter. Not only is the virus itself better suited to thrive in cold conditions but people will also be less able to meet outdoors as the nights draw in. Combine this with the annual pressures of flu and other bugs that the NHS always struggles to cope with and there is a potentially dangerous situation as we head into the autumn. You can read about the key threats and coronavirus flash points as we go into winter here.
Speaking in the Senedd, health minister Vaughan Gething said: “Let me be clear: the challenges this winter will be even greater, given the need to respond to the coronavirus outbreak and the resurgence of the virus over recent weeks. The next days and weeks will determine whether we have to move to introduce more significant measures to control the virus.
« We must be prepared for the worst and the Winter Protection Plan sets out actions that are being taken in readiness across the health and social services. The plan highlights a number of now familiar areas, but also ones that are crucial to controlling the virus. »
The plan takes into account a whole range of issues including vaccination programs, shielding and care homes.
It is described by the Welsh Government as their « overarching plan » which describes the broad context and priorities for health and social care until March 2021.
The Welsh Government’s plan all along has been to try and manage local outbreaks to prevent a full lockdown. To do this they reference the early warning indicators and circuit breakers (read more here) as well as the flow diagram below.
The annual winter flu outbreaks put significant pressure on the Welsh NHS. With Covid potentially stretching ICU capacity it will be important that as many vulnerable people as possible get a flu jab.
According to the plan, « the key focus is to maximise uptake rates amongst people at risk, such as those with clinical conditions and health and social workers ».
The Welsh Government want 75% of these people to be vaccinated. Ideally and if stocks allow, they then want to extend the offer of vaccination to other groups such as household contacts of people who were shielding and those aged 50 and over.
In addition to the flu vaccination programme, rollout of a Covid-19 vaccination programme could potentially begin from November 2020 if a vaccine becomes available.
People who had been told to shield in Wales are now able to go about their lives same as everyone else – though social distancing and extra caution is encouraged.
The plans says that because there are risks associated with staying home, the reduction of shielding even on a local basis will be decided by ministers following the recommendations of the chief medical officer.
The Welsh Government says that the lists of people who should shield will be kept up to date even if shielding is not currently advised. Local supermarkets will still offer priority slots to this group while shielding is paused.
National Volunteer Prescription Delivery Service for shielding patients continues until September 30 and will be able to be reactivated if required.
The four UK nations are also working together to develop a risk assessment tool which will enable a more individual discussion of personal risk between clinicians and patients. There is a similar tool in place for people from BAME backgrounds working in the NHS.
The plan says that TTP will be in place until there is a vaccine. It says that it will be helped by launching the NHS Covid-19 app. This will alert the user if they have been in close proximity to someone who has tested positive.
The app will also have integrated symptom checking and test booking, providing « an easy means to facilitate the test, trace, protect approach ».
The plan adds that they will « increase testing capacity at Welsh laboratories » and « help people to understand how and when to get a test ».
The need to increase Welsh lab capacity was thrown into stark focus over the weekend after the UK Government-run Lighthouse Labs were accused of being « close to collapse ». In plenary today First Minister Mark Drakeford said Wales would look to increase its capacity to deal with the shortfall.
Since March, over 293 million items of PPE have been issued to the health and social care sectors in Wales.
The plan says that the Welsh Government will continue to provide PPE for social care settings as well as primary care contractors, including GPs, optometrists, dentists and pharmacies through the winter.
The plan states: « A stockpile of critical products will be held to ensure resilience and our own self-sufficiency of supply for the health and social care sectors in Wales throughout the winter and to March 2021. »
At the moment the Welsh Government has 160 million items in stock, with orders placed for more than 300 million further items.
Will Wales see a second wave this winter and will it cope if so? Let us know what you think in the comments below.
According to the plan, based on experience from the first wave, 5,000 beds are available to ensure health boards are able to manage future waves of Covid-19 and any potential spike in emergency admissions.
This has been achieved by retaining a range of field hospitals, new hospital facilities and additional bed capacity created in existing hospital sites.
The plan does not go into detail on care homes as it says that its national care home action plan will be published at the end of Secember.
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