Health Minister: ‘Lessons to learn’ on anniversary of first Covid case in Wales

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There are “definite lessons to learn” one year on from Wales’s first case of coronavirus, the country’s Health Minister has said.

Vaughan Gething said the country would “definitely have done things differently” if it had the knowledge about Covid-19 that is available now.

Since a year ago, 203,625 confirmed cases and 5,340 deaths of people with coronavirus have been reported by Public Health Wales.

Mr Gething told BBC Wales’s Sunday Supplement programme: “When I think about when coronavirus arrived in Europe, across Europe we plainly were shocked because we hadn’t had the sort of significant impact that Sars and Mers had in other parts of the world.

“You can see that in the way that northern Italy was overwhelmed and parts of Spain were overwhelmed, we saw real difficulties in France as well as here.

“We didn’t have the same level of response that other parts of the world did, who were much more rapid to take the sort of society-wide interventions that we eventually did.”

Mr Gething said that at various points during the pandemic, he along with scientists and public health advisors had asked whether they did the “right things”.

“Looking back, we’d say with our knowledge today we definitely would have done things differently,” he told the BBC.

“We’d definitely have intervened more quickly but it was still the case that the advice to me was, with the knowledge we had at the time, ‘we think we gave you the right advice’.”

A mass vaccination centre in Cardiff (Justin Tallis/PA)
A mass vaccination centre in Cardiff (Justin Tallis/PA)

“The UK had a lucky escape from Sars and I think that’s part of the reason why we weren’t so geared up to take the significant interventions that have plainly been necessary,” he said.

The Welsh Government would like to “go further” on current measures at airports, with an approach to all international travel, not just a red list.

Mr Gething said: “I think with the learning we had now, looking back then yes, I think we would have taken different measures earlier.

“I think we would have taken a more restrictive approach to international travel.”

The minister said direct travel from China did not end up causing a significant amount of coronavirus to be introduced.

Instead, it was travel from China to other parts of the world and then more popular routes into mainland Europe.

“It was really the February half-term that was the big event, with people travelling into Europe and then back that introduced lots of different entry points and lots of different spreading events,” he said.

Health minister Vaughan Gething (Isabel Infantes/PA)
Health minister Vaughan Gething (Isabel Infantes/PA)

“If you look back, you can see points where we would have made different choices,” he told the BBC.

“Looking forward, there are definite lessons to learn.”

Mr Gething said air travel was a “significant factor”, not just of the spread of coronavirus but also the exportation of the Kent variant from the UK.

On Sunday, First Minister Mark Drakeford posted on Twitter: “Today marks a year since the first coronavirus case was reported in Wales.

“The last year has been a long and extremely difficult one, where everyone has had to sacrifice so much. My thoughts are with the friends and family of all those we’ve lost to this cruel disease.

“It was impossible to imagine then that we would still be living in a very different world a year on.

“The vaccine offers hope for the future, but we’re not there yet. For now, we still need to stay home. Diolch for everything you’ve done and continue to do to.”

The Welsh Government announced on Saturday that more than one million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine had been administered in Wales.

Figures published by Public Health Wales on Sunday showed a total of 923,615 first doses and 96,408 second doses had been given.

Mr Gething told the BBC that the vaccines, which were first administered in Wales 12 weeks ago, offered “renewed hope”.

Wales entered Level 4 restrictions – a national lockdown – on December 20.

In December, the seven-day incidence rate was around 630 cases per 100,000 people but this has now fallen to 67 cases per 100,000 people.

The restrictions are due to be reviewed by the Welsh Government on March 12.

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