Around two-thirds of Wales’ population is now under a local lockdown.
If current trends continue council areas such as Anglesey and Powys are also in danger of going the same way. Go here if you want to see the latest infection rates for every part of Wales.
We have spoken to Dr Eleri Davies, incident director for the novel coronavirus outbreak at Public Health Wales, about whether these local lockdowns are working to drive down infection rates.
Q: Caerphilly was the first local authority to be placed into a local lockdown on September 8 and for the first fortnight infection rates appeared to drop. However they’ve now shot back up again. Why do you believe this has happened?
“There has been some evidence that the local lockdowns have been effective up to a point. We did see a reduction in Caerphilly and there has also been some element of a ‘slowing down’ in the rate of rise.
“But the concern now is that, despite local lockdowns being in place, we are seeing increases again and the evidence still suggests that it is being caused by the meeting up and socialising of people, particularly in indoor spaces.
“That is driving some of the spread and that then feeds into the wider increases in the community.
“The principles of lockdown still apply and it’s about continuing to get that message out there. Although it’s challenging we need to all stick to those measures and abide by those rules.
“I understand it is getting more difficult now that the weather is deteriorating and people are clearly fed up [with lockdown]. But this is the way the virus spreads so we’ve got to take these measures.
“It’s a boring message in some ways but the social distancing, the hand-washing, the ensuring you don’t have those social gatherings indoors – that’s the key.”
Q. So even if we were to increase the restrictions and have a Wales-wide lockdown for a short period of time – a so-called circuit-breaker – do you think it would make much difference in terms of people’s behaviours?
“The decision around whether national measures are moved to is a Welsh Government decision. We can just advise on the evidence that we have got to hand.
“There is the data from Sage (the UK Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) and the recommendations that a circuit-breaker might be a good way forward.
“There could be an argument that doing something which applies to everybody will lead to a clearer message getting across.
“From Public Health Wales’ perspective it’s not our decision for when or for how long a circuit-breaker is introduced.
“Whatever Welsh Government decides to do we all have to take responsibility ourselves for reducing the opportunities for this virus to spread.”
Q. Do you perhaps feel like local lockdowns haven’t worked as well as you would have hoped?
“It’s difficult to say because we haven’t been through this sort of situation before. As always with infections you take certain measures and you have to observe – to a degree – what the response is.
“I think it was reasonable to look at putting interventions in place in response to local increases at that time.
“We are now having to work through whether or not the infection rate is responding to the measures that have been taken.”
Q. Could you explain the methodology and the key indicators Public Health Wales looks at to determine whether an area has seen a rise in transmission?
“We look at a combination of figures including the case rate [per 100,000 population], the positivity rate of tests, and information coming through about whether the case load is being generated by particular sectors or outbreaks. All of these things help us understand the local picture.
“Hospital admissions are also monitored because it puts pressure on the acute sector and is a reflection of the disease moving into higher-risk groups.”
Q. Llanelli was the first town to be placed into a hyperlocal lockdown instead of Carmarthenshire as a whole. How has that gone so far?
“There has been a reduction in cases there which is encouraging and it’s now about keeping that going because as we’ve seen in Caerphilly there has been a kickback.
“It’s not easy at all. I know that first-hand. My mother has been locked away in Swansea and I can’t visit her. We’re all facing challenges of what the rules mean in terms of what we would want to do.
“But we do know that the spread of infection is particularly indoors and in social contact so we have to reduce those.
“We will see a continued rise if we can’t stick to those rules.”
Q. How is the current ‘track and trace’ system coping with the huge increase in positive cases we’re currently seeing?
“The track and trace system is a joint effort between us, the Welsh Government, and local authorities.
“Clearly as numbers go up it puts pressure on the system. That’s an inevitability. But we are following up the cases and the aim is to track and trace the spread of the virus and take appropriate actions.
“It’s important that people respond to any calls they receive and are open and frank about their contacts so we can do this effectively.”
Q. We’ve been seeing some local rises in cases being attributed to the student population. Did Public Health Wales consider what impact students returning to Wales would have on infection rates?
“I think we were aware that university term would have its challenges.
“We’ve been supporting the Welsh Government and colleagues in higher education with plans prior to term starting and we’re supporting them now through track and trace and providing advice through supporting the IMTs (incident management teams) if there are issues.
“It is a difficult balancing act and there was a view that education really did need to move on [following the first wave].”
Q. So do you believe that local lockdowns are the way forward in Wales?
“There’s a political discussion going on and possible changes in policy.
“Public Health Wales will continue to evaluate the data and feed into the current process which is to have local IMTs and potentially some further local lockdowns.
“The wider decision around whether or not a region then moves into lockdown, or whether there is a wider national lockdown, is in the Welsh Government’s domain.”