THE latest figures shows Covid is creeping back into Wales, with the number of people currently infected around three times higher than it was a month ago.

An estimated one in every 20 people in Wales currently has Covid, and new infections are being driven by a sub-strain of the Omicron variant.

At the beginning of June, the figure was one infection in around every 75 people. Last week it stood at one in every 30 people.

Speaking today, health minister Eluned Morgan warned the nation is "in the midst of a new wave of infections" caused by the "fast-moving" new forms of Omicron which are spreading globally.

She also said "a large number" of NHS staff are currently off work because they have Covid - official data puts that figure at around two per cent this week. 

Chief Medical Officer Frank Atherton has insisted there is 'no appetite' to return to lockdowns or restrictions as covid cases rise. 

In recent weeks, health boards have ramped up their own protections and policies for hospitals, but Ms Morgan said these new measures would not be enforced via new Covid regulations.

"Some hospitals have taken the difficult decision to restrict visiting to prevent coronavirus from spreading among patients and staff; others are asking all visitors to wear face coverings," she said.

"We are not making face coverings mandatory in health and care settings , but I would encourage everyone to wear one if they are visiting a healthcare setting and I would also ask people to consider wearing a face covering in crowded indoor public places, while cases of coronavirus are currently high."

Ms Morgan also said free lateral flow tests would be available in Wales for people with Covid symptoms until the end of July, marking a one-month extension to the original end of the policy.

Omicron first arrived in Wales in the winter, and while it was more easily transmissible than previous strains of the virus, it was generally less likely to make people seriously ill.

The nation's defences against the pandemic had, by that time, been bolstered by the vaccine rollout, although Omicron's arrival did prompt the acceleration of the third-dose booster jab programme.

The nation's top doctor, Frank Atherton said he believes the case rate will peak towards the end of the July or the start of August, before dropping off again. 

He said: "Things have been on the rise the last few weeks, we're looking at data of other countries, like Portugal who have ridden the crest of cases. 

"We're looking at the end of July, into August then rates will start to drop and ease hospital rates. 

"We have no appetite for measures like lockdowns to return. We're not in that space because of vaccines."

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He also spoke of the importance of vaccines and rollout plans for the autumn.

He added: "Vaccines are very effective. They're not good at stopping transmission but good at keeping us out of the hospital. 

"It's really important going into the autumn that people plan to get their covid booster and flu jab. 

"I am wary about Influenza and what it will do to the population in Wales. It's likely we could have flu and coronavirus circulating in Wales. 

"We are planning a major vaccine campaign for autumn and it is so important for people to get their flu and covid boosters."

Public Health Wales reports the current dominant variant in Wales is the BA.5 variant of Omicron, which along with BA.4 is causing what Ms Morgan called "a surge in infections across the UK" and internationally.

What is the Covid situation across the UK?

The estimated prevalence of coronavirus in England is currently around one in 25 people, and in Scotland it is around one in 17 people.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that 2.7 million people in private households are estimated to have had Covid-19 last week, up 18% from 2.3 million the previous week.

This is the highest estimate for total infections since late April, but is still below the record high of 4.9 million which was reached during the Omicron BA.2 wave at the end of March.

Some experts argue that as long as death rates remain low and intensive care beds are not filling up at an alarming rate, then allowing the infection to spread enables the pandemic to run its course in a heavily vaccinated population.

They argue that bringing back masks and other restrictions only serves to push the problem further down the road.

However, others are worried about the increasing number of NHS hospital admissions, the impact on health and care staff, and the risk of serious illness in the immunosuppressed.

Leading statistician Dr David Spiegelhalter said on Friday that hospital admissions were “rising steeping and they are nearly at the level of previous peaks this year”.

But he added: “I think there are some indications that they may be topping off.”

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) this week, Europe is at the centre of the resurgence in Covid-19 infections as more people mix at large-scale events and travel.

Additional reporting PA

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