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Gareth Morgan, a retired steelworker, was on a flying visit to Port Talbot town centre. “I come in early when there’s no crowds, do my shopping and then I’m home and stay in for the rest of the day,” he said. “I don’t risk being out and about.”
Morgan is worried by the soaring Covid-19 rates in this corner of south Wales. “People don’t keep their distance. They barge past you in the supermarket and you see gangs hanging around the town. There isn’t much social distancing.”
While coronavirus rates in England and Northern Ireland have fallen and are stable in Scotland, cases in Wales are on the up.
On Friday, the Welsh government described the rate in Rhondda Cynon Taf, Blaenau Gwent and Neath Port Talbot as “incredibly high”, warning that unless levels fell across the country, it would bring in new restrictions, equivalent to a lockdown, immediately after Christmas.
Morgan feels the government should act sooner. “I think we need another lockdown now,” he said.
Lisa Griffiths, who runs a florists in Port Talbot, agreed people were no longer taking Covid seriously. “Social distancing has gone out the window,” she said. “I’ve had panic attacks about it. Delivery drivers come in without masks. People aren’t following the rules.”
There are a lot of people feeling under huge pressure in Port Talbot, a town famed for its steelworks.
Susan Wilcocks, a retired school kitchen worker, shook as she described having to look after a relative who needed to get into hospital for chemotherapy but was terrified about catching Covid; Amy Greenaway said four of her six of her children had been sent home from school because of Covid outbreaks. “It’s so hard to keep going,” she said.
It has been a very difficult few weeks across Wales, where following the apparent success of the country’s 17-day “fire-breaker” lockdown in the autumn, Covid has returned with a vengeance.
The Welsh government has tried to turn the tide by ordering the hospitality industry to stop serving alcohol and instructing secondary schools and colleges to move to online learning from Monday. On Friday it announced that outdoor attractions including funfairs and winter wonderlands would close and next week it will publish a revised Covid control plan.
But it has made it clear that it will not be bringing in a lockdown before Christmas and the looser four-nation approach to the festive period will be allowed to happen.
Some in Neath Port Talbot, where the weekly rate per 100,000 has passed the 700 mark, think that is a mistake.
Swansea Bay University Health Board’s director of public health, Dr Keith Reid, favours a whole-Wales lockdown now.
He said hospital beds were 90% full – compared with 60-65% during the April peak. Around 10% of hospital staff and 40% of district nurses are off work, almost all because of Covid.
“We had a meeting with the Welsh government on Wednesday,” he said. “We put forward our case that we needed to go back into a national all-Wales lockdown. That’s not been their response.
“We’re really concerned. It’s nearly three weeks until the end of the Christmas period, which was described by one colleague here as a ‘five day bender’. Even if measures come in immediately after the Christmas break there will be a period of a couple of weeks where cases still continue to rise. This is adding to our fear and sense of impending catastrophe.”
Reid said it was not necessarily the case that what is happening in Wales now will be the picture in England in a few weeks’ time, arguing it may be that there are distinct regional variations to the progression of Covid.
And there may also be solid reasons why the crisis is particularly acute in parts of south Wales. Rob Jones, the leader of Neath Port Talbot council, said households mixing was the No 1 reason for the crisis. “That is the most difficult area to police,” he said.
Jones said part of the problem was down to a minority who felt the rules did not apply to them. “Some people have Covid fatigue,” he said. “They are mixing at parties.”
But he said social deprivation played a part. People in poor, closely-knit communities rely on relatives and friends for childcare, for example.
Jones worried that Wales is heading for a “super-surge” after Christmas. “My advice to people is plan for a quiet Christmas. There will be another one next year. It’s darkest just before the dawn. The vaccine will be the dawn but we’re in for a very dark period first.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: ‘Plan for a quiet Christmas’: fears of Covid super-surge in south Wales | Coronavirus