New rules to curb a rise in the number of coronavirus cases could be “shutting the door after the horse has bolted”, an intensive care doctor has warned.
David Hepburn, from the Royal Gwent Hospital, was one of the first NHS doctors to become ill with Covid-19.
He said he feared a second wave had already started and could last six months amid a rise in cases in Newport linked to pubs and clubs in the city.
Health Minister Vaughan Gething said closing such venues was an option.
Mr Gething said if people’s behaviour does not change Wales could face a national lockdown within seven weeks’ time.
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Dr Hepburn’s warning comes as the BMA warned that doctors’ greatest fear was a “very likely” second wave.
Speaking to BBC Radio Wales Breakfast, Dr Hepburn said there was “definitely a sense that things are ramping up again”, likening it to the situation in February “before we started to get active cases in March”.
“It is worth emphasising there are patients in hospital in south Wales with Covid and it is only a matter of time before we start getting patients sick enough to end up with us [in intensive care],” he told Oliver Hides.
New rules came into force in Wales on Monday, mandating the wearing of masks in shops and other indoor public spaces, and banning indoor meetings of more than six people from an extended household.
On Monday, Pembrokeshire council asked care homes for older people in the county to suspend all non-essential indoor visits from Tuesday.
It said it was a precautionary measure to help keep residents as safe as possible.
Visits to care homes have already been stopped in Rhondda Cynon Taff and Caerphilly.
The changes come after two areas brought in new advice to avoid following Caerphilly into a local lockdown, with Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford warning Covid-19 was “on the rise again” as 20 people in 100,000 had the virus.
“Modelling always showed a double peak or a triple peak distribution,” Dr Hepburn continued.
“There is still time if people obey the rules, wear masks and try to stay apart. We know that being outdoors is much better than being indoors, so if we have to meet up with someone you are much better doing it outdoors.
“We can turn it around, but I have a terrible feeling now we are shutting the door after the horse has bolted, and this increased activity at the minute is going to translate into another big wave for us in critical care in the next four to six weeks, which would be a shame.”
At its peak, 49 patients were critically ill on ventilators at the Royal Gwent Hospital’s intensive care unit in Newport – the unit’s usual maximum capacity being 14 – with Dr Hepburn comparing it with “scenes from a science fiction film”.
Dr Hepburn said if it was the start of a second wave it could last longer than the first wave because it was happening before the winter months when cases were expected to rise as people move indoors.
“It was fairly acute last time – it was all over by May, June last time,” he explained.
“But if we see a big surge in hospital admissions this time, it could last for six months which would be a big problem.”
He added: “There was always going to be a natural ramping up but the question is now whether behaviour modification and whether people pulling together locally to avoid a big surge will work, and I really hope it does because I can tell you this now, I’m really not looking forward to going through it again.”
The British Medical Association (BMA) has reported 86% of doctors and medical students who responded to a survey said a second peak was likely or very likely in the next six months.
“The survey results expose the greatest fears of doctors in Wales – fears borne out of their everyday experiences of treating patients with Covid-19 and witnessing the dramatic impact of the virus on the NHS,” said Dr David Bailey, BMA Cymru Wales council chairman.
“As a profession, and I’m sure as a nation, we do not wish to return to the scenes we saw earlier in the year, where hospitals were full with Covid-19 patients, many people dying every day.”
Mr Gething said he was waiting to see the results of recent testing in Newport, Rhondda Cynon Taff and Merthyr Tydfil before deciding whether local measures were needed.
He said he could not rule out a national lockdown in Wales, even if other parts of the UK do not.
Later at a press conference he added: “If there isn’t a change in behaviour we could well be not just seven weeks away from a potential national lockdown, but a lot quicker.”
“If we see cases continue to rise… then we may be in a position to make that decision and need to make that decision sooner than the seven week period of time.”