A social care leader is calling for a tightening of the rules for visiting care homes to save lives in the run-up to Christmas.
Mario Kreft MBE, the Chair of Care Forum Wales, is urging the Welsh Government to step up the programme of booster jabs for care workers.
It was clear, said Mr Kreft, that Omicron was far more transmissible than previous variants and would soon overtake Delta to become the dominant strain.
The cautious approach taken so far by the Welsh Government had been “eminently sensible” and he welcomed a comment from First Minister Mark Drakeford that new guidance for visiting in care homes and hospitals would be issued.
Mr Kreft said: “Our first and overwhelming priority is to ensure the vulnerable people for whom we provide care and our wonderful workforce are kept safe.
“We are calling on the Welsh Government to look at the rules. We want to keep homes open safely but we need to do that in a very measured and responsible way.
“We have a new enemy in the Omicron variant which is spreading at a scarily rapid rate with the number of infections doubling every two days.
“It is possible we may need to close down for a week or a fortnight so I think the advice would be to get to see your loved ones as early as possible because we just don’t know where this virus is going.
“It would be absurd for me to pretend that everything is going to be fine. Over the next few weeks we could be overwhelmed by this virus.
“The people working at the front line have been heroic. They’re worn out, they’re jaded but they are doing the best they can to keep people safe.
“We want to see that everything that can possibly be done to make sure that the booster is rolled out right across the country, especially to those who are caring for the vulnerable.
“What we now have to do is work with our partners in government and local health boards to ensure that people working on the front line get those jabs as soon as possible.
“We are encouraging our colleagues in the health service to ensure we can get our staff jabbed
“A very high percentage of residents are fully vaccinated and some care homes are reporting that 100 per cent of their residents have had all three jabs.
“It is now imperative that we ensure any remaining residents and staff who have not been triple jabbed are vaccinated very soon.
“It would be ideal if they could organise for vaccination teams to visited larger care settings so that the necessary booster jabs can be done in one fell swoop.
“We also need to have boosters for domiciliary care workers who are the key to ensuring that people can remain safe in their own homes.
“It’s unclear as yet whether this particular strain is quite as lethal as previous ones but, even if it isn’t, Omicron can still have deadly consequences.
“The vaccine offers a good degree of protection but the dangers for frail people have not been totally eliminated.
“The risk has not gone away because people who’ve had the full compliment of jabs can still catch coronavirus.
“The important point is that people receiving social care usually have serious underlying health conditions that make them uniquely vulnerable to Covid in its various forms.
“Many are already very unwell so being infected with the virus can have fatal consequences.
“The other problem is that, if community transmission goes unchecked when we have this incredibly virulent strain on the loose, staff are also going to be affected, whether that’s through catching Covid themselves or having to self-isolate for other reasons.
“We already in the grip of the worst staffing crisis social care has had to endure and care homes are having to turn people away because they don’t have the capacity to provide care for them.
“That means more and more people are stuck in hospital because they cannot be accommodated in care homes or supported in their own homes.
“It’s putting extra pressure on our beleaguered NHS when they are already creaking under the strain.
“The best Christmas present for people in care homes and those supported in their own homes would be to keep them – and the staff who look after them – safe.
“Care Forum Wales will always support measures like this that will undoubtedly save lives.”