NEW LOCKDOWN WARNINGS AS CASES RISE
PLUS: THE VILLAGE SPLIT IN TWO BY COVID-19
FEARS have been raised that more counties could follow Caerphilly county borough into local lockdown, after another rise in Covid-19 cases in Wales.
The leader of one of the nation’s largest councils – Rhondda Cynon Taf ( RCT) – has warned stricter measures could be imposed within days unless the rise is tackled.
And a leading statistician says Merthyr Tydfil is not far behind neighbouring Caerphilly in terms of positive coronavirus tests.
The warnings came as Wales saw yet another rise in the number of positive cases in the latest 24 hours of results.
The latest figures from Public Health Wales (PHW) yesterday revealed 165 new lab-confirmed cases.
That is up from 150 cases on Monday and the highest since May 20, when 166 were reported.
Merthyr has now passed the rate of 50 coronavirus infections per 100,000 people in the last week – the same level at which the Welsh Government announced a local lockdown in Caerphilly.
RCT, which has had 41.4 infections per 100,000 people, is not far behind and PHW said it was concerned about both areas.
The figures bring the total number of cases to 18,829 in Wales since the beginning of the pandemic.
Across Wales, there have been 19.5 cases for every 100,000 people in the last week, which is just below the rate for foreign countries at which Wales starts to bring in quarantines for visitors.
Thankfully, though, there were once again no reported Covid-19 deaths by PHW.
The county borough of Caerphilly, which was under lockdown from 6pm on Tuesday, recorded 33 new positive cases – the most of any local authority once again.
RCT had the second highest with 20, while Newport had the third most significant rise in cases when compared with Tuesday after recording 18 cases.
Cardiff had the fourth highest with 13, followed by Merthyr Tydfil with 12.
Every single local authority recorded at least one positive case.
The area of Wales with the highest rate of coronavirus infections, judging by the seven-day rolling total per 100,000 people, remains Caerphilly, with 83.4, followed by Merthyr with 51.4 and RCT with 41.4.
Caerphilly now has one of the highest positive case rates per head of population in the UK.
But as the local lockdown there entered its first full day, new concerns were expressed about neighbouring local authority areas.
Dr Giri Shankar, incident director for the novel coronavirus outbreak response at PHW, said: “We are concerned at the significant rise in positive coronavirus cases in the Merthyr Tydfil and Rhondda Cynon Taf areas over the past few days, and our investigations indicate that a lack of social distancing by people of all age groups in a range of different locations has resulted in the spread of the virus to other parts of the population.
“It appears that as lockdown restrictions have eased, people have taken advantage of the greater possibilities for activities, but they seem to have forgotten the importance of social distancing – resulting in possible transmission in the wider community.
“It is clear that the virus spreads more easily in indoor settings, and people should take extra care to socially distance in these cases to keep themselves and their friends and families as safe as possible.
“Public Health Wales supports the restrictions which have been put in place by the Welsh Government and Caerphilly council. These measures are essential to limit the spread of coronavirus and bring transmission under control.”
RCT council leader Andrew Morgan warned the county is at risk of joining Caerphilly in lockdown “if the numbers do continue to grow”.
Concerns over coronavirus measures not being adhered to in supermarkets led to council officers visiting 45 stores in RCT and issuing improvement notices to six of them.
They were criticised for issues including not ensuring that social distancing is being maintained and that hand and cleaning sanitiser is available where appropriate.
As a result, the following premises have now been served improvement notices (orange): Tesco, Talbot Green; Aldi, Porth; Morrisons, Porth; Lidl, Aberdare; Iceland, Pontypridd (Taff Street); and Co-op, Ynysybwl.
These businesses will now be given 48 hours to correct the issues highlighted or further enforcement action will be considered, including the option to issue closure notices.
Pubs in the area will also be inspected.
The council has already tightened rules at care homes, with indoor visits no longer allowed.
And a temporary testing centre is due to open in the county today.
Cllr Morgan said: “The numbers are growing over the last five or six days and we are concerned that we only have a limited number of days and maybe a week or two ahead where we can get on top of this and stop the numbers from growing and facing potentially a lockdown situation.”
He urged parents and children to follow social distancing while waiting outside schools.
“The big one that’s more difficult is outside schools when you have a couple of hundred parents turn up to collect their children,” he said.
“Social distancing is difficult but it really is key for that age group.
“When I looked at figures with Public Health Wales officials the two categories where there’s a huge imbalance across all the groups that are getting the virus now the vast majority are in 20-29 and 30-39. They make up probably 70% of cases testing positive.”
Cllr Morgan said the council would recommend parents wear a face covering if social distancing is difficult when waiting outside schools.
As of yesterday, RCT had recorded 13 cases of coronavirus across six of its schools – involving 12 staff and one pupil.
He also said issues with “clusters” of cases elsewhere in the borough could be traced back to the holidaymakers returning from Greece.
“There’s an explicit example in RCT where a small group of individuals came back from Zante to Bristol,” he said.
“They came back to RCT, some went out socialising and some went to meet friends and family. Unbeknown to them they were all positive. They got tested and they were all positive and unfortunately some of the clusters in RCT are explicitly linked to those individuals as they unknowingly had the virus.”
Cllr Morgan said the cluster passed on the virus to those in the household.
“That’s why the test and trace is so key,” he said. “When I sit down and have a conversation with our officers who are working on it we see there are links.
“We do have a lot of staff working on this and the only way we can stop it is finding out where a person went and isolating them and the people around them and shut that cluster down.
“But as soon as we shut one cluster down another is appearing.”
Cllr Morgan said it wasn’t “inevitable” that a local lockdown will be enforced in RCT but said the next few days are “critical”.
“I know some people are thinking it will happen no matter what”, he added, “but if we all play our part, whether it’s in supermarkets, pubs, restaurants, whatever we do day to
day will make the difference, I think.
“Three to four weeks ago we had no cases in RCT for several days because the public were following the rules and keen to get rid of this.
“Then we probably got a little more lax thinking it’s not an issue – but if we get back to following those golden rules, I think in the next week to 10 days we could bring this back down.
“But I’m fearful that if we don’t it’ll be another week or so and our time will be up and we’ll have to bring in firmer measures to control this.”
He said the council will be requesting that residents wear masks in shops and other public venues, while pubs in the borough not adhering to test and trace, social distancing and hygiene guidelines will be served with improvement notices, or closed for two weeks.
An announcement is expected to be made on this by the end of the week.
“At this point there will be requests to the public, not mandatory, but RCT council will request the public wear face coverings within all shops in the county,” he said.
Concerns were also raised about neighbouring Merthyr Tydfil.
Jamie Jenkins, a former head of analysis at the Office for National Statistics who is based in RCT, said: “The best indicator is how many tests they are doing, and then how many tests they are returning that are positive.
“That does highlight an issue in Caerphilly as over the past seven days we have seen about 4.8% of tests that were carried out coming back positive, which is quite high as that is around one in 20.
“If you look across the whole of Wales, and to the data, Merthyr Tydfil would probably be the one you are more concerned about, rather than Rhondda Cynon Taf. Over the last seven days in Merthyr 4.4% of tests have come back positive so it is not far behind Caerphilly
“Less people are talking about Merthyr because the numbers are smaller, but then Merthyr is much smaller than Rhondda Cynon Taf. We probably will see cases rise in RCT, but the actual percentage is 3.1% coming back positive so there is a bit to go to catch up with Caerphilly.
“If you are looking at the next risk of potential lockdown, I would say that it is Merthyr above Rhondda Cynon Taf.”
Local authority leaders, the health board and Dyfed-Powys Police cautioned people in the Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion region that a local lockdown could happen if they did not socially distance.
The warning came after a cluster of coronavirus cases were confirmed in Carmarthenshire, centred around a community event.
Figures released by Public Health Wales yesterday showed there have been no further deaths in people with coronavirus, with the total in Wales since the beginning of the pandemic remaining at 1,597.