Residents across Swansea Bay are being urged not to go to festive parties or meet friends and family this Christmas season.
With Christmas Day less than a fortnight away Covid-19 cases locally are at record levels and rising fast.
Local councils and public health chiefs are seriously worried the virus will bring misery to many thousands of families this festive season if people do not act to cut their contact with others right now.
Rob Stewart, Leader of Swansea Council, said: “We’re pleading with people to realise the pandemic isn’t over, that the risks are greater now than they have ever been. This Christmas think about what you should do rather than what you want to do.
“Cut down your contacts before Christmas and during the festive period. Please don’t go to festive get-togethers and parties, even if you think you will be OK. It’s not about you – it’s about all of us acting together for the good of everyone.
“We know most people catch the virus from their friends or family. Mixing could kill someone with an undiagnosed medical condition, or a vulnerable family relative if you mix with them. So the message is simple ‘Don’t make this Christmas the last for your loved ones.”
He added: “Infections in our region are the highest they have ever been, and as infections rise and people get ill and require hospital treatment, our hospitals fill up. This means beds are being filled with Covid-19 patients, resulting in those who need other treatments having to wait longer. Our NHS and social care staff need us all to do the right thing more than ever this Christmas’
“We can only stop the virus spreading fast if we all choose to do the right thing and not socialise this Christmas. It’s down to each of us to make the right decision in the best interests of our loved ones, our doctors and nurses, and those who really need hospital treatment. Your actions could overload our hospital this Christmas”
‘If we don’t all heed the warnings, then inevitably January and beyond will be very, very difficult. It will take us longer to emerge from the pandemic and to get back to normal. However if we do act sensibly then the prize on offer in 2021 is an end to this awful period. With a number of vaccines available in early 2021 the end is in sight – but we have to get through Christmas first.”
Infection rates have climbed by a third in Swansea in the last week and in Neath Port Talbot the incidence rate is the second worst in Wales behind Merthyr Tydfil.
In the last seven days 2,606 more people were confirmed to have caught the virus in Swansea Bay – 1,542 in Swansea and 1,064 in Neath Port Talbot.
The figures are more than eight times higher than the first week after Swansea Bay went into a local lockdown in September when 228 people in Swansea and 85 in Neath Port Talbot in caught the bug.
Rob Jones, Leader of Neath Port Talbot Council, said: “I don’t know how to stress it more strongly. Covid kills. People will die this Christmas from Covid. We can only stem the tide by cutting down our contact with others.
“It’s an awful thing to ask people not to socialise with family and friends over Christmas and New Year until you consider the alternative. The alternative is a virus running out of control in our communities, destroying lives and overwhelming NHS and social care services.
“This time last year I could never have imagined asking people not to see their friends for Christmas. But it is another tragedy of 2020 that we should avoid being with some of the people we love at this special time.”
Dr Keith Reid, Executive Director for Public Health at Swansea Bay University Health Board said he was concerned the Covid-19 health crisis was deepening.
“I said a week ago we were facing a catastrophe. In the last seven days the situation has only got worse.
“We know from contact tracing services the vast majority of cases are due simply to people socialising – meeting up with friends at home, while out shopping, chatting in the workplace or sharing car journeys.
“There is no sign of the spread slowing. It is the opposite in fact and without further restrictions it will continue to spread even more rapidly. The effect on services has been overwhelming.
“There are hundreds of people in our local hospitals being treated for Covid-19. Hospital staff are committed to caring for those affected but they are exhausted after so many months of relentless stress and heartache.
“It is the same for social care stuff supporting the elderly and vulnerable, our Contact Tracers and our Enforcement Teams. We need to find ways to take the pressure off them.
“Earlier this year we clapped for our carers. Now we need to do more. Simply put, more socialising over Christmas will mean more spread, more illness and, unfortunately, more people dying. Cutting back on contact will reduce the spread and ease the stress.
“It’s a bleak message for Christmas and there is hope on the horizon with the roll-out of the vaccine. But not yet. Now we must do what we need to do, not what we want.”