Coronavirus: Call for testing over 'Covid wealth divide'

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A track and trace testing regime could be used as part of easing lockdown measures

A "Covid wealth divide" could widen as lockdown measures are eased, according to a health data analyst.

Jamie Jenkins, former head of health analysis at the Office for National Statistics, called for a testing system to keep inequality to "a minimum".

The ONS has published data suggesting people in Wales' most deprived areas are more likely to die of coronavirus.

The Welsh Government said it would not ease the lockdown until key health measures are met.

It said any easing of restrictions would be accompanied by a surveillance programme to detect any new coronavirus hotspots, and a system of testing and contact tracing.

The exit plan put forward by the government, requires several questions to be considered before decisions are made around relaxing the restrictions, including whether it would have a "positive impact" on equality.

Mr Jenkins said the virus was spreading in more deprived areas where there is a denser population and where more people may still be travelling to work rather than working from home.

The ONS analysis shows 44.6 Covid-19 deaths for every 100,000 people in the poorest 20% of communities in Wales.

In the wealthiest 20% of communities it was 23.2 deaths per 100,000 people.

Newport has suffered the worst rate of coronavirus deaths so far, almost twice as high as the Welsh average.

Mr Jenkins said: "If you look at the more affluent areas of Wales and the kind of nature of the jobs that people do, you might start seeing the Covid wealth divide, if that's we're going to call it, widen as we start easing out of lockdown.

"Because many of those in the more affluent areas may be in jobs that they continue to do from home, whereas those in the more deprived areas, continue to have to travel into work.

"We've seen that the types of jobs people do in the deprived areas are going to put them at greater risk of exposure to the virus.

"So if the government wants to try and keep the inequality to a minimum as much as they can, then testing those that we know are more susceptible to the virus can be the only way forward.

"I think one thing the government probably needs to do as we come through this is going to be through the testing regime and track and trace."

The Welsh Government has said it plans to put in place a larger community testing programme, including tracking and tracing people when Wales move out of lockdown.

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: "Throughout this crisis we have been guided by the latest international and UK evidence, including this analysis of the statistics by ONS.

"We will continue with this approach as we consider how and when restrictions can be eased in Wales and how we continue to protect people.

"A post-pandemic Wales will be very different - it can't be business as usual.

"We must be open to new ideas, guided by our commitment to social, economic and environmental justice and by the values, which have supported us in difficult times before."