Coronavirus: 'Mass gatherings could be banned for a year'

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Dr Meirion Evans
Image caption,
Dr Meirion Evans has worked as a consultant epidemiologist for Public Health Wales

Mass gatherings could be banned for more than a year in Wales as the hunt for a coronavirus vaccine continues, a senior government adviser has said.

Dr Meirion Evans, professional adviser to Wales' chief medical officer, said the restrictions could remain until a vaccination is routinely available.

However, he said some lockdown measures could be relaxed over the coming weeks.

So far, official figures show 463 people have died with coronavirus in Wales, with 6,118 confirmed cases.

Dr Evans said Covid-19 would be potentially dangerous until a vaccine was widely available, "which we anticipate may be in the middle of next year".

Until the population is immunised, there was still the possibility the virus could return and control measures would be needed in the "longer-term," he added.

"We won't be returning to absolute, complete normality and it may be that there will be restrictions on mass gatherings, for example, for quite a long time into the future," Dr Evans told Newyddion S4C.

"And perhaps until a vaccination is routinely available."

However, he said some lockdown measures could be relaxed over the coming weeks if hospital admissions and deaths begin to fall, as they have in Italy and Spain.

"Looking ahead, we're perhaps looking at in two to three weeks' time, when we'll be looking at some options to relax and release some of these lockdown measures.

"It won't happen all at once, it'll happen slowly and gradually, step by step."

Image source, Wales News Service
Image caption,
Crowds gathered in tourist hotspots such as Barry Island shortly after restrictions first came into effect

The Welsh Government extended the coronavirus lockdown on 8 April, saying it would remain for "several more weeks at the very least".

Ahead of relaxing any restrictions, the Welsh government is hoping to boost coronavirus testing, with Health Minister Vaughan Gething vowing to boost the daily number by next week.

Currently, up to 1,300 daily tests can be carried out - well short of the government's target of 5,000 a day by "mid April".

Analysis of the latest figures show the Welsh government has tested just 14% of this target on some recent days - there were just 675 tests on Easter Monday.

Dr Evans said the number of tests currently being done was in line with the government strategy but, when lockdown measures begin to be relaxed, more tests would be needed.

"It will become very important when people are starting to go back to work that we make sure, as fast as possible, that [they] don't go back with symptoms, so that we are not allowing the further spread of the virus," he added.