Covid lockdown anniversary: Wales remembers those lost to the virus

4 weeks ago
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Mark Williams in a kayak

Andrea Williams

People across Wales will join the rest of the UK to remember those who have died with coronavirus, marking one year since the first lockdown began.

There will be a minute’s silence at 12:00 GMT, a national doorstep vigil and a remembrance event in Cardiff as part of a day of reflection.

More than 125,000 people in the UK have died with Covid, with more than 7,000 of those deaths in Wales

People are encouraged to light up doorsteps or display yellow hearts.

More than 100 historic buildings across Wales, including the Senedd, Britannia Bridge, Principality Stadium and castles at Caerphilly, Conwy, Caernarfon and I’m A Celebrity’s Gwrych, will be lit in yellow in memory of those who have lost their lives.

Wales saw just over 4% more deaths than normally expected during 2020, according to data from the Office for National Statistics.

The nation ranks 13th across Europe – but below the other UK nations – for deaths above expected levels in 2020 during the Covid pandemic.

A woman wearing a mask outside a gift shop on Castle street, Cardiff

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The Covid-19 Families Wales group – which supports about 1,300 people who have lost loved ones – asked for monuments to be lit up in tribute.

“We offer free counselling, but also support people by saying ‘we know how you feel’,” said Andrea Williams who helped set the group up.

“If someone says ‘I can’t sleep’, someone else may reply that they’re going through the same thing.

“Other people may say ‘I feel guilty, I shouldn’t have sent him to hospital’. It’s all the questions that go around your head.”

‘We are going to light up Wales to remember’

Mark and Andrea Williams

Andrea Williams

Mrs Williams, from Sully, Vale of Glamorgan, helped set up the group after losing her husband Mark, 58, at the start of the pandemic.

She said: “He was fit and well, and a kayaker. The media message wasn’t right (at the start of the pandemic), saying it was mainly old and overweight people.

“It has helped me, and others in the group, knowing others feel the same.

“We are taking everything at our own pace and we are going to light up Wales to remember.”

Kirsty Fox-Smith from Rogerstone, Newport, has been making yellow hearts for members of the group after losing her dad, Andrew Payne, 58, in January.

Mr Payne had a number of health issues after having a kidney transplant and diabetes, and told his family he was in the “prime box” if he caught it.

However they vowed to make sure he did not, which made it a shock when he died.

“Every window upstairs [in my house] that faces on to the road has hearts, which light up every day,” Mrs Fox-Smith said.

“Every neighbour on the whole row, eight houses, have yellow hearts as well. Dad lived on the same estate and everyone is gutted.”

James Thomas

James Thomas

Rhondda Cynon Taf has been the worst hit local authority in Wales, with 339.8 deaths per 100,000 people compared with a rate of 196.4 across the country.

Tonyrefail has been particularly badly affected, with it having the most deaths of Wales’ 400 localities, and is second overall once population is taken into account.

A map of Rhondda Cynon Taf areas, showing highest Covid death rate areas

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But adversity has brought the community together, with resident Dawn Parkin saying: “They have all come together like a territorial army. I’m an Army officer, and they really have been like troops on the ground.”

When Covid hit and the community centre closed, her garage became the local foodbank helping hundreds, before people started donating clothes, prams, anything for those who could not get out.

Residents then started coming up with ideas to keep spirits up – such as a Tonyrefail Bake Off competition, and cooking nights, where people would all buy the same ingredients and create meals at home following the same instructions.

It has helped keep spirits up, with funeral director Huw Parkman saying at the peak of the outbreak he would have up to 20 services a week to organise.

‘Some funerals would’ve had several hundred there’

Huw Parkman

Huw Parkman

“Some of these funerals would’ve had several hundred people there,” he said.

“The death of a person in their 40s and 50s could be the hardest ones, because only immediate family could go, which can leave loved ones behind.”

A graph comparing deaths per 100,000 people in Wales on average with those in Rhondda Cynon Taf, per 100,000 people - from April 2020 to February 2021

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James Thomas’ burger van Beefy’s Baps did not qualify for any government grants as it is a relatively new business, so instead, he decided to focus his energies on helping people.

“It spiralled and I was soon covering all of Tonyrefail and Gilfach Goch,” Mr Thomas said.

“About 3,600 meals we’ve given for free, including in local nursing homes.”

In total, he has helped raise £16,000 in donations, which funded selection boxes for children at Christmas, £3,000 for homeless charities, plus Easter eggs for children’s charities.

“It’s really important for the older people who weren’t getting to see anyone. Speaking to some, they were saying it [lockdown] didn’t make any difference as they weren’t seeing anyone anyway. But for others it made a massive difference,” he added.

“It’s been bad in a lot of ways with a lot of deaths. A lot of people I know have died, but a lot about it [how people have come together] has been really good.

“I keep thinking ‘are we going to stop’ [with the free meals], but we just can’t.”

‘The lucky ones’

Meanwhile, two communities in north Wales – Llandudno Junction South and Llasanffraid Glan Conwy, and Rhyl South West – have registered no deaths at all with Covid during the past 12 months.

Luck and following lockdown rules has helped keep the virus out of Llansanffraid Glan Conwy, according to local pub and cafe owner Sylvia Hughes.

A graph comparing Covid-19 deaths in Rhondda Cynon Taf from March 2020 - Feb 2021 with deaths in Conwy

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“We’ve been one of the lucky ones, on the whole,” said Ms Hughes, who runs the Cross Keys pub and Caffi Llan in the village.

“It is partly down to how well most people have complied with rules in the village, like no mass parties or gatherings.

“We’ve had the odd little Covid incident but nothing major.”

However Ms Hughes said the restrictions were “a nightmare” for her businesses and many were hoping for “normality” soon.

Sharon Hutton and the Sunrize salon

Sharon Hutton

Sharon Hutton owns the Sunrize tanning salon in Rhyl South West, and said she felt “everyone had really come together” throughout the lockdowns.

“Housing estates were doing social distancing bingo on drive ways at one point, people organising zoom calls and virtual quizzes – everyone has been trying to be as united as possible,” she said.

The 58-year-old said while it had been “frustrating” as a salon owner, she had seen new interest from customers who want to “feel good” and “get back to normality”.

She said phone calls with customers showed many people were “itching” to get out into the town again.

So where does Wales stand one year on?

Two weeks ago, Wales passed the threshold for “trigger” figures for a lockdown, with its case rate and test positivity rate.

Currently Wales has an average weekly case rate of 42 per 100,000 people in the population – below the 50 cases threshold, and its lowest point since 17 September last year.

Map of case rates in Wales

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Confirmed and suspected cases are down to a fifth of Wales’ record levels in late December and back to numbers last seen in September.

The number of people who have received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine now stands at 1,273,186 – a rise of 14,417 on the previous day.

Woman walking by closed shops in Cardiff city centre

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Of that total, 346,058 people have now had a second dose.

Latest figures show there were no Covid patients in critical care or on ventilation in Cwm Taf Morgannwg hospitals on Sunday, for the first time since September 2020.

The number of Covid patients in hospital beds in Wales stands at 821, according to NHS Wales figures – and the daily average is the lowest since 23 October.

Wales’ local authority with the highest case rates for the seven-day period up until 17 March remains Merthyr Tydfil at 121 cases per 100,000, although it has fallen from 129.3 the previous day.

The lowest case rates are seen in Ceredigion (11), Monmouthshire (15.9 ) and Bridgend (17.7).

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BBC News – Wales

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