Coronavirus: Merthyr Tydfil and Rhondda tests cause concern

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There are fears about the rising number of coronavirus cases in some valleys areas

Merthyr Tydfil could be the next area in Wales to see a local lockdown, according to a health data expert.

The former head of health analysis at the Office for National Statistics highlighted the rising proportion of positive coronavirus tests in the area.

In the past seven days, 6% of tests in and around Merthyr were positive.

That is more than the 5.1% in Caerphilly, which has gone into lockdown, and almost double the 3.2% in Rhondda Cynon Taff.

Rhondda MP Chris Bryant has warned a local lockdown could be enforced in the area “by the weekend” if cases continued to rise.

But data expert Jamie Jenkins said: “If you look at the data across the whole of Wales, Merthyr Tydfil would be the one you would be more concerned about rather than Rhondda Cynon Taff.”

Mr Jenkins said fewer people were talking Merthyr than Rhondda Cynon Taff “because the numbers are smaller but the local authority of Merthyr is much smaller.”

He added: “But if we’re looking at where the next risk of a local lockdown is going to be, it’s probably Merthyr above [RCT], if they apply the same principle of looking at the stats.”

Merthyr Tydfil council has been asked to comment.

The number of positive tests across Wales was also “a concern”, said Mr Jenkins, with the proportion more than doubling, from 1% to 2.5% in the space of the past four weeks.

How many cases have there been in Merthyr?

The case rate – the proportion of cases for the size of its population – is now 51.4 per 100,000 – which is 31 cases in the past seven days.

It has the highest case rate total after Caerphilly, which is 83.4 per 100,000.

Coronavirus case rates

Cases per 100,000 people over the last seven days

The rate in Rhondda Cynon Taff is 41.4, in Powys 21.9 and in Wrexham it is 20.6.

Public Health Wales is investigating a small number of cases at a factory in Merthyr.

More than 250 people work at the General Dynamics plant, which assembles armoured vehicles for the Army.

The Welsh Government felt it had little option but to introduce a local lockdown in Caerphilly county, because of a dramatic rise in the coronavirus case rate – the proportion of cases to the population.

Not quite as startling, but still significant, has been the case rate rises in Rhondda Cynon Taff and Merthyr Tydfil.

But public health experts won’t just be looking at those figures, they are also looking at how many tests are coming back positive.

How many tests are positive?

% of positive Covid-19 tests by area in last seven days

The average in Wales over the last week has been 2.5%, but in Caerphilly it’s more than double that – 5.1%

In RCT currently, about three tests in every 100 come back positive. That’s actually that’s lower than Newport.

But if we look at Merthyr Tydfil, 6% of tests are coming back positive, so no wonder alarm bells are ringing.

I believe if that was replicated across Wales, we might be back to a blanket lockdown.

As it stands, it seems almost inevitable there will be more restrictions as time goes on.

But they might be different, depending on local circumstances.

The message health officials are trying to stress at the moment is, wherever you live, is if you want to avoid a form of local lockdown, be careful, observe social distancing and take the coronavirus risk seriously.

Will Rhondda Cynon Taff go into lockdown?

Visits to care homes in the county have already been stopped, while six supermarkets have been given improvement orders after checks by public health officials found they were not adhering to coronavirus regulations.

They are Tesco in Talbot Green, Aldi and Morrison’s in Porth, Lidl in Aberdare, Iceland in Taff Street, Pontypridd, and Co-op in Ynysybwl.

They have 48 hours to correct the issues highlighted or they could face further action, including closure.

There have been warnings over social distancing due to small clusters around Porth, Penygraig and Tonypandy.

The spread of Covid-19 here has so far been of a different nature to the infections in Caerphilly, where there has been community transmission.

Council leader Andrew Morgan said there were just days to “get on top” of rising infections and a temporary testing centre has opened in Porth.

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Morrison’s in Porth is one of six shops found to be not adhering to coronavirus regulations

Mr Morgan also announced pubs would be inspected in a similar way to check they were complying with legislation.

“We don’t want to see pubs having to close early or be closed altogether,” he said.

Mr Bryant also said he feared a lockdown could be imminent: “If we carry on as we are then there will be a lockdown, perhaps by the weekend, because a small minority of people are being fundamentally irresponsible.

“They are refusing to isolate when they come home from holiday, refusing to be tested when they are showing symptoms, going to caravan sites in groups of six, seven, eight families together, holding parties in houses, giving false names to pubs so they can’t be traced.

“The truth is that we are all in this together. Some people think they and the people they love are magically immune but if we don’t take this seriously there will be a major lockdown, which will affect people’s livelihoods and finances.”

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