Coronavirus hospital admissions in Wales are being driven by a “worryingly high” surge in cases in older people, health minister Vaughan Gething has said.
He warned the rise in infections in younger people is now spreading to the older population, with the number of patients being treated for the virus increasing by 26% since last week.
The health minister’s stark description of increasing pressure on health services came as the director of the Welsh NHS Confederation said he is concerned by the number of over-60s now contracting Covid-19.
Mr Gething told the Welsh Government’s press conference on Wednesday that the latest figures from Welsh hospitals show there are 894 current Covid-related cases – the most since June.
There are 43 people in critical care with the virus, which is a 72% increase since last week, he said, and amounts to one in four of all critical care bed capacity in the country.
“The number of people admitted to hospitals in Wales for treatment of coronavirus symptoms continues to rise each day,” Mr Gething said.
“One of the reasons why we are seeing more people being admitted to hospital is because as the virus has become more widespread in Wales, it has spread from younger age groups to older age groups.
“We’re seeing worryingly high levels of infection in our older population. This is not unique to Wales. This is a pattern seen across the world. Infections rise quickly, first in young people before spreading into older age groups.”
Mr Gething said there is “a very real risk” that Wales’s health service would be overwhelmed without action to reduce the spread of the virus.
Scientific experts have calculated the number of Covid-19 infections is growing by 4% each day in Wales, with an estimated 2,500 daily infections.
The health minister said a firebreak lockdown, which comes into force in Wales at 6pm on Friday, has been designed to be “as short as possible but to be as effective as possible”.
The rapid COVID-19 surveillance dashboard has been updated. We have added a new map displaying cases split by location.
— Public Health Wales (@PublicHealthW) October 21, 2020
He added: “It needs to be sharp and deep, including all parts of society, to have a maximum impact on the transmission of the virus.
“Most importantly, it needs to target the main sources of transmission – places where people meet with other people.”
The estimated R value – the number of people each coronavirus case infects – in Wales is between 1.1 and 1.4 but it could be driven below one with the firebreak, he said.
“This will slow the spread of the virus, reducing the infection rate, which ultimately means fewer people needing hospital treatment and fewer people dying,” he said.
But he acknowledged the 17-day lockdown “isn’t harm free”, saying there would be an impact on people’s wellbeing, mental health, livelihoods and the economy.
Darren Hughes, director of the Welsh NHS Confederation, said Mr Gething had painted “a stark picture of how the virus is spreading” particularly with older people.
“We are particularly concerned by the number of people over 60 who are contracting the virus,” he said.
Please see the slides from today's press conference 👇 pic.twitter.com/I2tuTE96VS
— Welsh Government (@WelshGovernment) October 21, 2020
“The number of patients with coronavirus in our hospitals is rising and this also, tragically, means the number of deaths is once again rising. We know this number is likely to become higher.
“We know that this is hard for a lot of people, but we are asking people in Wales to please continue to adhere to the restrictions and guidance and help us bring the number of cases, hospitalisations and deaths down.
“NHS staff are currently working flat out to treat everyone with coronavirus who needs care, but staff are also working tirelessly to provide care for people with other health issues.
“We must also remember the commitment and dedication staff within health and social care have shown throughout this period. Their bravery in the face of extreme pressure and adversity should never be forgotten.”
A further 962 cases of Covid-19 were reported in Wales on Wednesday, bringing the total number in the country to 38,361.
Public Health Wales said 14 further deaths had been reported, with the total number since the beginning of the pandemic now at 1,736.