Drakeford: Lockdown extension will avoid ‘throwing away’ coronavirus sacrifices

A three-week lockdown extension across the UK will avoid “throwing away all the sacrifices we have made” in the fight against coronavirus, Mark Drakeford has said.

Wales’ First Minister broke the news that restrictions on movement would continue across the country following a Cobra meeting between all four of the UK’s governments on Thursday.

Mr Drakeford said the decision not to relax lockdown measures was taken as it was too early to “change course” in the fight against the Covid-19 outbreak.

Coronavirus cases in Wales
Coronavirus cases in Wales

He said: “Earlier this afternoon, I, along with the first ministers of Scotland and Northern Ireland, attended the UK Government’s Cobra meeting.

“We each confirmed our decisions that the current restrictions on movement to protect the NHS and so to save lives should continue for another three weeks.

“This is based on expert scientific analysis of the latest data on the coronavirus outbreak across the UK.”

Mr Drakeford said while the previous three weeks of lockdown had been “very difficult for many people”, it was too early for the UK to change course despite positive signs in infection rates.

He added: “Many more lives are at stake, and too many families have already lost loved ones.

“Nevertheless, the decision to extend the lockdown is not one that has been taken lightly.

“But I am clear that we cannot risk throwing away all the sacrifices we have made here in Wales over the last few weeks by lifting the restrictions too soon.

“That could mean more deaths and, in the long run, even greater impact on people’s jobs and livelihoods.

“Our approach will continue to be driven by the best information and the best advice we can secure.

“We will go on taking the decisions that are right for Wales, and at the right time so that together we go on protecting our NHS and so to save lives.”

Earlier on Thursday, Public Health Wales said 32 more people have died after testing positive for Covid-19, bringing the total of confirmed hospital deaths in the country to 495.

The new total of confirmed cases in the country reached 6,401, a rise of 284, while a total of 22,627 tests have so far been carried out on 19,447 people.

Dr Andrew Goodall, the chief executive of NHS Wales, said at the daily coronavirus briefing in Cardiff that all health boards in the country are reporting “green” or “level-one” status – meaning they are able to manage demand on their services.

He said there are 940 people with confirmed Covid-19 in hospital and a further 395 suspected cases in Wales – a total of 1,335 patients.

About 49% of critical care beds are “vacant and available”.

Of occupied beds, one in three are being used by people with confirmed or suspected coronavirus.

“As I’ve indicated before, the greatest pressure on critical care beds remains in the south-east of Wales,” he said.

Dr Goodall said he is “concerned” members of the public are not seeking help for illness or injury unconnected with Covid-19, revealing A&E attendances are down 60% compared with the same period last year, with a 35% reduction in emergency admissions to hospitals in Wales.

Patient activity with GPs has fallen by an estimated 20% to 25% but the number of contacts for the 111 phone service has doubled.

“Given the general drop in activity we’ve seen over recent weeks, I’m concerned that people may not be seeking medical help for illnesses and symptoms not related to Covid-19,” Dr Goodall said.

He said staff sickness across NHS Wales would normally be at about 5% for this time of year, but is currently at 9.2%.

When asked about whether the peak of the curve had been reached in Wales, Dr Goodall said: “There are lots of unknown elements about how this virus develops.

“We hope that it’s possible that we may be seeing some stabilisation soon – certainly some of the UK figures are suggesting that at the moment – but I think it’s too early to call whether that is the peak of the curve and indeed whether there may be some other times during the course of the year where we may see some of this curve appear again.”