ON WEDNESDAY (Feb 24) Wales’ Health Minister, Vaughan Gething, announced expanded testing and faster vaccine delivery to help Wales-reopen safely.

He confirmed Wales will aim to offer the vaccine to all eligible adults by July 31.We will publish an update to the national vaccination strategy today (Friday 26).

Workplace and community testing will also be expanded.

The scheme for workplaces to carry out testing and set up their own test sites is now being extended to public and private organisations with more than 50 employees.

Mr Gething said: “Our vaccine and testing programmes are vital to safely re-opening up our society and economy.

“Our vaccine programme continues at pace and, on Friday, I’m publishing a revised vaccine strategy with detail on how we will, subject to supply, offer every eligible adult in Wales the first dose of the vaccine by the end of July.

“Workplaces with more than 50 employees will now be eligible for support to regularly test their workforce, helping reduce the spread of the virus and allow them to operate safely.

“From next week targeted community testing will begin in parts of Bridgend, Merthyr Tydfil and Rhondda Cynon Taf. This will help find those who show no symptoms of coronavirus.
We have already set out our revised plans for the careful and cautious re-opening of Wales’ society and economy. The measures announced today will play an important part in achieving that as safely and quickly as possible.”

The revised vaccine strategy will provide more details on current and forthcoming priorities, including – subject to vaccine supply – the bringing forward of target dates for key milestones
The support available to workplaces in Wales to introduce a testing scheme includes the provision of rapid lateral flow devices, training, access to an online testing portal and clinical standard operating procedures and guidelines.

The community testing programme will use Lateral Flow Devices. Everyone who attends will be given a test using the devices, which can turnaround results within 20 -30 minutes. Anyone who tests positive via an LFD test will be asked to return home so they can self-isolate immediately and arrangements will be made for a follow-up PCR test.

Although community testing will initially be available in three local authorities, further discussions are taking place with partners in North Wales and it could be rolled out more widely based on local circumstance and need.

Opposition parties focussed on the long-overdue prioritisation of learning disabled care home residents, among whom the death toll is far higher than in the rest of the population.

Delyth Jewell MS welcomed the change of tack.

Delyth Jewell said: “I’m delighted that the Welsh Government has finally listened to the plea from families of those with learning disabilities and prioritised them for vaccination.

“This will bring huge relief for the people I’ve been speaking with over the past few weeks who have been worried sick about their loved ones.

“Their anxiety could have been alleviated weeks ago, had the Welsh Government changed the policy at the point when the evidence first became clear that this group was extremely clinically vulnerable, being between 6 and 30 times more likely to die from COVID-19.

“They wasted weeks in seeking to unnecessarily change the advice before changing the policy. However, justice has finally been secured with a hugely significant U-turn that has the potential to save many lives.”

Ms Jewell added: “Given that priority group 6 is very large, It’s now essential that the Welsh Government undertakes work to decide on prioritisation within this group so that the rollout proceeds in a way that the evidence suggests will save most lives.”

Commenting after the Health Minister’s briefing, Angela Burns MS, the Shadow Minister for Health, said: “Naturally enough, we welcome the Minister’s pledge that all adults in Wales will have been offered a first Covid jab by the end of July, some months ahead of its earlier target date.

“Of course, this is being made possible because of the UK Government’s procurement policy, which has seen it pulling for all nations in the UK, demonstrating the value of a strong Union.

“However, Labour must deliver at speed its policy – following new guidance by the JCVI – on offering prioritised vaccinations to people with learning disabilities, who have seen vastly disproportionate fatality rates with Covid.”