Wales’ Health Minister ‘deeply sorry’ as Covid-19 death toll passes 5,000

Adam Hale and Claire Hayhurst, PA

Wales’ Health Minister has said he is “deeply sorry” for the country’s coronavirus-related deaths as the total reported by its health agency passed 5,000.

Vaughan Gething insisted the Welsh Government had done “everything” it could to avoid deaths from the virus, but acknowledged it wanted to make “even better choices in the future”.

On Monday, Public Health Wales said a further 12 deaths of people with suspected Covid-19 reported to the agency took the total in Wales since the start of the pandemic to 5,001.

Around a half of those deaths are ones reported in the time since the final week of November, making the winter months the deadliest period of the pandemic so far.

The figure, which only takes account of hospital or care home deaths, is lower than the one recorded by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) which includes all registered deaths where the virus is suspected or confirmed.

The ONS currently reports 6,473 deaths up to January 22 with a further update due on Tuesday.

Mr Gething was asked at the Welsh Government’s press briefing in Cardiff if the administration would apologise for the huge loss of life, to which he said he was “deeply sorry”.

“I’m deeply sorry for every single life that’s been lost, every family who’s been affected,” Mr Gething said.

“Right from the outset of this pandemic, we made a point of recognising that these aren’t just numbers, these are people who are loved and valued and leave others behind.”

Mr Gething said the Welsh Government had taken “extraordinary measures” to reduce the number of people coming to harm from the virus.

“Despite all of that, we know that more than 5,000 people have lost their lives,” Mr Gething said.

“I’m afraid we can be terribly confident that without the measures that we’ve all taken together, more people would have come to harm and more families would be grieving the loss of a loved one.

“That’s why it’s so important that we all stick with what we’re doing to help drive down rates even further.”

HEALTH Coronavirus Wales
(PA Graphics)

Mr Gething warned the total number of deaths “will rise further as well”, and said throughout the pandemic he had never sought to “understate” the impact his and other ministers’ decisions had on “whether people are alive or not”.

Asked whether he believed he had done everything he could to keep the number of dead as low as possible, Mr Gething said he and his colleagues did everything they could “at the time”.

“I feel real sorrow when every death is reported. I do think we’ve done everything that we could have done at the time,” he said.

“But that’s not the same as saying that looking back we wouldn’t want to do different things.

“I think that’s a really important part of the honesty that we need, because we have learned, our knowledge has developed, and it’s important we then use that to make different and hopefully better choices in the future.

“So it isn’t just about saying we did everything we could in the past, without being humble enough to recognise that we have better knowledge now, and we can make even better choices in the future.”

Dr Giri Shankar, incident director for the Covid-19 outbreak response at Public Health Wales, said in a statement that Wales had reached a “sobering milestone”.

“That’s one life lost every 90 minutes since March last year. 5,000 families grieving. We offer our sincere condolences to everyone who has lost someone,” he said.

Andrew RT Davies, the leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the Senedd, said of the milestone: “This is heartbreaking and behind every statistic is a family and a loved one who has been taken before their time.

“It’s an appalling and tragic loss of life and my thoughts and sympathies continue to be with the families in what has been a terribly tough period for our country, and which is likely to continue over the weeks ahead.

“There will no doubt be a time for serious reflection in a future inquiry but the priority for now must continue to be (the) vaccine rollout.”

The health agency reported Wales’ seven-day case rate to be at 116 cases per 100,000 people.

A further 610 cases of Covid-19 in Wales took the total number of confirmed cases to 196,670.

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