A senior Welsh health committee official who oversaw one of the UK’s most affected areas for coronavirus in the early days of the pandemic said he was unable to test the hospital patients suspected of Covid-19.
Dr Sarah Aitken, interim medical director of the Annein Bevan University Health Board, said that only patients who had symptoms and who had traveled from a virus-affected country could be tested until March 9. He said a subsequent board investigation had shown evidence of a spread of the coronavirus community in Gwent by March 6.
In a written request to Senedd’s health, social and sports committee, the board said it was not “authorized” to test patients suspected of having Covid-19 who had not traveled to some countries.
The presentation said that there was a “rapid increase” in coronavirus cases in early March and “accelerated” to peak at Easter following the introduction of blockade measures across the UK.
The health committee, which covers Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Monmouthshire, Newport, Torfaen and southern Powys, was one of the hardest hit areas in the UK in the early days of the pandemic and had nearly half the cases in Wales.
Dr Aitken had previously warned that there was a “cluster” of coronavirus cases and was following “the same pattern observed in Italy”.
He said to the committee: “Our first patient was admitted to ICU and tested positive on March 11 and was taken when surveillance was expanded to include people who had not traveled.
“What became evident later on was that the virus had established itself in the Gwent community since that first week of March. At the time the tests were based only on a travel story.
“We found ourselves responding to the virus at an early stage of the epidemic in the UK as a whole and our use in the ICU increased very rapidly and at the peak we had 49 ICU patients and our maximum was 28.
“The important thing is that we managed to do it, but we faced redistributing our workforce.”
Judith Paget, the CEO of the board, said that what affected them most in the future was another coronavirus pandemic that was combined with the annual seasonal flu epidemic.
“I think the thing that worries us most is the combination of a flu season and a Covid season,” he said.
“Thinking ahead of time about how we go from summer to winter and prepare using everything we’ve learned in the past eight weeks.”