The Welsh first minister, Mark Drakeford, has warned that Covid infections are rising sharply, with the current wave expected to peak at the end of this month. However, he said it was possible to avoid further lockdowns if people behaved sensibly.
Drakeford said the Welsh cabinet would meet next week to discuss whether vaccination passports should be introduced and said the NHS in Wales was ready to begin giving jabs to children if they are approved.
At a press conference in Cardiff, Drakeford said there were now about 520 cases per 100,000 people in Wales, the highest rate this year.
If the virus continues to spread at its current rate, Drakeford said he expected to see about 3,200 cases confirmed every day at the peak.
The first minister said “pandemic pressure on the NHS” was increasing. There are more than 420 confirmed cases in hospitals across Wales – the highest number since March. At the moment there are about 40 Covid-19 hospital admissions a day. But the modelling suggests there could be 100 new Covid-19 daily admissions when the wave peaks.
Drakeford said health and care services were already experiencing staffing pressures, through a combination of annual leave, staff working in other areas, sickness and isolation. Staff were exhausted.
He asked the public to think about whether they could get care from a local pharmacist or GP rather than going to A&E, and asked them not to visit patients in hospital unless absolutely necessary.
Drakeford said he expected the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation soon to confirm the arrangements for an autumn booster programme.
He said: “There is emerging evidence from Israel that the effectiveness of vaccines may start to decrease after eight months, making a booster jab important. We will start sending invitations out as soon as the announcement is made and our NHS has worked hard to make sure it can start the programme as soon as it gets the go-ahead.
“At the same time, the four UK chief medical officers are continuing to discuss and take further expert evidence about whether the vaccine should be available to 12- to 15-year-olds. We are expecting a decision next week and, if the rollout is agreed, the NHS here, will be ready to begin.”
Warning that the pandemic was not over, Drakeford said: “For six weeks now, Wales has been at alert level 0. This means all businesses are able to open and there are fewer legal restrictions in place to control coronavirus than at any time since the start of the pandemic. The key message I have to emphasise today is that this does not mean the virus has gone away.”
The first minister was repeatedly asked during his press conference if new restrictions or lockdowns were bound to happen, but said: “Nothing is inevitable.”
Drakeford said the Welsh government’s cabinet would discuss next week the idea of introducing vaccination passports in certain circumstances. “There are a series of practical and ethical issues which need to be considered,” he said.
He said passports would not be introduced in settings where people were obliged to go, but said there could be an argument for them at places where people gathered voluntarily in large numbers, if having two vaccinations could be shown to reduce the risk.