Coronavirus cases could peak in May, says Welsh chief medical officer

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There may be an “upsurge” of coronavirus cases in April, resulting in a peak in May before a “downturn later in the year”, the chief medical officer for Wales has said.

Dr Frank Atherton told a press conference in Cardiff Bay that the current situation is a “window of opportunity” but warned it is “almost inevitable” that more cases of Covid-19 will be diagnosed.

How matters develop over the next few weeks will be “critical” in shaping how the UK adapts its response, he said.

The reasonable worst case scenario is that around 80% of the population will be affected but most of these will be mild cases, Dr Atherton said.

People who suspect they have coronavirus are encouraged to stay away from hospitals and GP surgeries and to contact NHS 111, which has now been made fully available across Wales.

Dr Atherton said: “We have to think about our most vulnerable communities and how to protect them.

“If you think about the most vulnerable populations, they are often in nursing homes or care homes.

“I think we need to intensify the advice to people that if you have a cold or flu-like illness, don’t go and visit your auntie in a care home.”

A joint plan on responding to coronavirus, unveiled on Tuesday, has been developed by all four nations of the UK.

When a case is confirmed in the UK, medical professionals speak to that case about their recent history such as work or travel.

This list is then “whittled down” to those who have spent 10-15 minutes in close proximity – around one to three metres – to the patient.

Areas with confirmed cases of coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

“Every individual that we identify tends to have 10-20 close contacts that need following up,” Dr Atherton said.

He said the current understanding of the virus is that those who are not exhibiting symptoms will not spread it.

Dr Atherton told the briefing that a “significant increase” in cases could happen around April.

“The best guess is then a period of six to eight weeks of quite significant levels of transmission in the UK, with a tapering perhaps in July and August – so an upsurge in April, possible peak in May/June and a downturn later in the year,” he said.

“There is now an opportunity for calm preparation. Most cases, if it does take off in the UK, are likely to be very mild.”

Vaughan Gething, minister for health and social services in Wales, said additional centres to treat patients affected by the coronavirus could be opened.

There are currently four designated isolation centres in England for those diagnosed as having the virus.

“Preparations in Wales have included developing our own test for the virus and establishing community testing,” he said.

“The vast majority of tests to date have been undertaken in the community.”

In total, 450 people have been tested for the virus in Wales and there has been one confirmed case.

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