WALES is increasing coronavirus Covid testing capacity to prepare for an expected wave of cases of the new Omicron variant of Covid.
Health minister Eluned Morgan said rapid testing was needed, amid concerns Omicron may spread more quickly than other variants of the virus.
Earlier this week she said Wales was preparing for a “significant” wave of Omicron infections and expected the peak of those cases to arrive in mid-January.
The new strain was identified in South Africa in late November and has spread around the world, prompting new travel restrictions on several African nations and – in the UK – fresh uncertainty from political leaders over the course of the pandemic this winter.
More than 500 cases of the new variant have been confirmed here, including nine in Wales. With the spread of Omicron has come new restrictions in England – one Wednesday, Boris Johnson announced the UK government would switch to its winter ‘Plan B’.
Because health is devolved, that move has no direct impact on Wales – and in any case the new rules for England, such as Covid Passes for some events and venues, and the recommendation to work from home, have already been in place in Wales for months.
But Ms Morgan will be meeting with first minister Mark Drakeford and other Welsh ministers today for the latest three-week review of the Covid rules. The results of that meeting, and any rule changes in Wales, will likely be confirmed this evening or on Friday.
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In the meantime, the service in Welsh NHS-run Covid testing laboratories will be increased to seven days a week in a bid to track the spread of Omicron.
The health minister called the emergence of the new strain “a sombre reminder that the pandemic is not yet over”.
“There is concern that the Omicron variant may be spread much faster than other variants,” Ms Morgan added. “It’s important we try to delay the spread of Omicron in Wales, and to do so we need to rapidly identify cases.
“Throughout the pandemic testing has played a crucial role and we want to swiftly identify Omicron cases here in Wales.
“This alongside other measures already in place will help us once again to keep Wales safe.”