Rates of coronavirus in Wales have fallen by more than 80% since December, the country’s deputy chief medical officer has said.
Dr Chris Jones said the incidence rate of Covid-19 was around 630 cases per 100,000 people in December but has now dropped to around 80 cases per 100,000 people.
He told a press conference in Cardiff that the figure reflected a national average but “significant decreases” had also been seen in areas of Wales that had previously experienced high case rates.
These include Wrexham, where rates have fallen from 300 cases per 100,000 people to around 80 in the past few weeks.
“This is really encouraging, particularly given the presence of the new, more transmissible variants, and is the result of everyone’s efforts and sacrifices over the last several weeks,” Dr Jones said.
The number of Covid-related patients in hospitals remains high, at around 1,800, but has “stabilised and started to fall”, he added.
This is a delayed indicator of transmission, as people are often admitted to hospital weeks after contracting Covid-19.
On Monday, the youngest learners aged three to seven began returning to schools in Wales and it is hoped that all primary school pupils, as well as students in years 11 and 13, will return from March 15.
All secondary school pupils are expected to return to face-to-face teaching after the Easter holidays, depending on the public health situation in Wales.
Dr Jones said experts would continue measuring coronavirus rates, as well as hospital pressures, before each phase of more pupils returning to classrooms.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) currently estimates the R number – the average number of people a person with Covid-19 infects – in Wales to be between 0.6 and 0.9.
“It compares well to the position in the summer and is significantly down from the period before Christmas,” Dr Jones said.
More than 860,000 people have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, with more than 42,000 having had their second dose as well.
This means that more than 25% of Wales’ population has received their first dose, Dr Jones said.
“We are still on track to reach the next milestone of offering vaccination to everyone in priority groups five to nine by the end of April, providing that vaccine supplies remain on course,” he added.
However, he said it would take a couple of months for the most vulnerable people to have received both doses of the vaccine.
Dr Jones warned that it was “still probably a bit early” to be clear about the effects of the vaccination programme in the UK.
“We have seen almost a 50% reduction in confirmed Covid cases in our hospitals since the peak, that’s at the same time as we’ve had about an 80% reduction in case numbers as well,” he said.
“The changes in the case rates in the over-60s and the under-60s are similar in Wales at present but I would hope that we will start to see a reduction in the case rates for over-60s soon.”
Dr Jones said he believed there were 17 probable cases of the South African variant in Wales, with all but two cases linked to travel, and “no sign” of Brazilian variants.
On Monday, Public Health Wales said there had been a further 319 cases of coronavirus in Wales, taking the total number of confirmed cases to 202,007.
Another nine deaths were reported, taking the total in the country since the start of the pandemic to 5,246.
In total, 862,248 first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine had now been given, an increase of 2,165 from the previous day.
And 42,752 second doses had also been given, an increase of 4,979.
In terms of age groups, 90.5% of those over 80 have received their first dose, along with 92.6% of those aged 75-79 and 91.9% of those aged 70-74.
For care homes, 84.4% of residents and 85.8% of staff have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.
Public Health Wales said 84.3% of people in the clinically extremely vulnerable category had received their first dose.
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