The number of people in hospital in Wales with coronavirus is now more than double that seen during the peak of the first wave, the chief executive of the Welsh NHS has said.
Dr Andrew Goodall said there were now around 2,870 Covid-related patients being treated, meaning “difficult choices” would have to be made about the range of services delivered by the health service.
On Wednesday, he told the Welsh Government’s press briefing that the impact of the country’s lockdown measures would take “weeks” to be felt by the NHS, and that it would be “a while yet” before the number of admissions to hospital and those needing critical care started to fall.
Dr Goodall said: “We have now exceeded double the peak we experienced during the first wave in April. At that level, the NHS will have to make some very difficult decisions about the balance of services it can provide.”
More than a third of hospital beds in Wales are occupied by coronavirus-related patients while nearly two-thirds of critical care patients currently have Covid-19, he said.
Critical care is currently operating at 152% of normal capacity, with 150 people in critical care units across the country.
Dr Goodall said the average age in critical care in Wales is 59, with almost twice as many men admitted as women.
Dr Goodall said: “Very sadly, about 38% of people with coronavirus who have needed critical care did not survive.
“And because we have seen higher numbers of admissions in the second wave, we’ve seen a higher number of deaths therefore in critical care.
“The last few weeks have been sobering and extremely difficult for staff throughout the NHS. High levels of positive cases in the community leads to more hospital admissions, more seriously ill patients, including in critical care, and ultimately to more deaths.”
Wales’s chief medical officer Dr Frank Atherton, who joined Dr Goodall at the press briefing, said there were “encouraging signs” that transmission rates were beginning to stabilise but urged caution.
“We need to be very careful about how we interpret that because the situation certainly remains very serious and we’re still dealing with the added factor of the new variant,” he said.
“We also need to be very cautious because we know that even when things do stabilise in Wales and in the rest of the UK, they can take off very quickly.”
Dr Atherton said the incidence rate across Wales had fallen from about 650 cases per 100,000 people in mid-December to 410 cases per 100,000 people currently.
There were “particularly high” rates in areas of Flintshire and Wrexham in North Wales, he said, which were likely being driven by the variant strain of the virus and was also still making its way around South Wales.
The test positivity rate has fallen from 25% to 20% but was still “way too high”.
Dr Atherton also said it was “good” that mobility data showed there were now similar levels of people travelling around and out of their areas as was seen during the two-week firebreak lockdown.
Public Health Wales said on Wednesday there had been a further 1,533 cases of coronavirus, taking the total number of confirmed cases to 174,412.
The agency also reported another 66 deaths, taking the total in Wales since the start of the pandemic to 4,063.
It said the country’s seven-day case rate was 417 per 100,000 people.