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14 February 2020
This is an evolving issue and this article is correct at the time of writing.
On 31 December 2019 a number of cases of pneumonia were reported in Wuhan, China, which were later identified as a new strain of coronavirus which had not been seen in humans before: the novel coronavirus (referred to as COVID-19 from 11 February and this term is used throughout this article). On 30 January 2020, the WHO declared that COVID-19 had met the criteria of being a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). A PHEIC is defined as:
An extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response.
As of 14 February, a total of 2,964 people have been tested for COVID-19 in the UK, of which 9 tests have been confirmed as positive. There are currently no confirmed cases in Wales. Public Health Wales have said that it “is not providing a commentary on the numbers of suspected cases, or on the numbers of people being screened, in Wales”. The Welsh figures are included in the above UK numbers.
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 (previously referred to as novel coronavirus or 2019-nCoV) is a new strain of coronavirus first identified in Wuhan City, China.
A coronavirus is a type of virus which is common across the world. They cause a range of illnesses from mild colds to more severe diseases. Coronaviruses are zoonotic diseases, this term means they are diseases that are transmitted from animals to humans. Zoonotic diseases are very common and the UK Government maintains a list of those present in the UK. The WHO explains that “the animal source of [COVID-19] has not yet been identified”.
Typically symptoms of a coronavirus can include a cough and fever. Generally, coronaviruses can cause more severe symptoms in those with a weakened immune system including older people and those with long-term health conditions.
The UK Government says that:
Based on current evidence, novel coronavirus (COVID-19) presents with flu-like symptoms including a fever, a cough, or difficulty breathing. The current evidence is that most cases appear to be mild. Those who have died in Wuhan appear to have had pre-existing health conditions.
The UK and Welsh response to COVID-19
In a statement on 24 January 2020 the Minister for Health and Social Services, Vaughan Gething AM, explained that:
Chief Medical Officers and public health agencies are working closely across the 4 Nations to co-ordinate actions so that Wales and the UK are ready to respond to further developments in this public health incident
Following the WHO declaration of a Public Health Emergency, on 31 January the UK Chief Medical Officers advised an increase in the UK risk level from low to moderate. However, it was made clear that “this does not mean [they] think the risk to individuals in the UK has changed […] but that the UK should plan for all eventualities”.
On 1 February the UK Government launched a public information campaign to advise on how to slow the spread of COVID-19, which is similar to the ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ campaign. The Welsh Government are working with Public Health Wales to support this campaign.
On 4 February 2020 in response to COVID-19, Vaughan Gething laid new Welsh regulations that, he said, would “immediately remove charging overseas visitors for the diagnosis and treatment of [COVID-19]”. The Minister for Finance and Trefnydd, Rebecca Evans AM, said in a letter that this “reduces the risk of people not seeking treatment, thereby more widely protecting and lowering the public health risk”.
In response to COVID-19 in England, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock MP, made regulations on 10 February 2020 using powers conferred under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 (“the 1984 Act”). A press release said that the regulations will ensure that health professionals have the powers “to keep individuals in isolation where [they] believe there is a reasonable risk an individual may have the virus”. These regulations apply to England only.
In response to the English regulations, Vaughan Gething made a statement on 11 February 2020 explaining that:
[he was] considering whether [Wales’s] current legislation is sufficient to protect the wider public from [COVID-19]…or whether we need to make equivalent provisions in Wales
The Welsh Ministers do have powers to make the equivalent regulations for Wales under the 1984 Act.
Vaughan Gething said in a written statement that he “will continue to provide AMs with a written update every Tuesday and more frequently if necessary”.
Dispelling false information about COVID-19
Since the outbreak of COVID-19 there have been concerns about the spread of disinformation, particularly around false cures and how the disease spreads. This has been such a widespread issue that the WHO said in its situation report on 2 February 2020 that:
The [COVID-19] outbreak and response has been accompanied by a massive ‘infodemic’ – an over-abundance of information – some accurate and some not – that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.
As a result, the WHO has published ‘myth busters’ to dispel some of this false information.
Getting up to date information on COVID-19
Up to date, official information about COVID-19 and the action being taken by the UK and Welsh Governments can be found at the following links:
- Daily updates from Public Health Wales
- FAQs from Public Health Wales
- Daily updates from the Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England
- Daily situation reports from the World Health Organisation
- Q&A on COVID-19 from the World Health Organisation
Article by Lucy Morgan, Senedd Research, National Assembly for Wales