It’s a gray and rainy day in the closed town of Ebbw Vale, Blaenau Gwent, the borough that currently has the highest rates of Covid-19 in Wales and the United Kingdom.
For many residents here, there is a sense of dread of what being the hardest hit neighborhood in Wales might mean, but for others, a growing sense of frustration looms as local restrictions persist.
The borough has averaged 274.8 positive results per 100,000 people for the week ending September 27, according to Public Health Wales.
This means that Blaenau Gwent is not only the place with the worst Covid rates in Wales, but also one of the worst affected areas in the whole of the UK. Some days, depending on the levels being reported in Burnley, Liverpool and Bolton, it had the highest.
The region also saw the highest percentage of tests showing positive results in Wales, around 10% for the past week, which indicates that there may be more cases left untapped.
Liverpool was the region with the most Covid cases in England during the same seven days at 268 cases per 100,000 people.
District Senedd member Alon Davis said the virus would spread rapidly across the close-knit Blaenau Gwent communities, and people had to take social distancing seriously to avoid the need for tighter lockdown measures.
We spoke to residents at Ebbw Vale to hear their thoughts at this time.
Keith Davies, 79, has owned a furniture store on Ebbw Vale’s Main Street for more than 40 years and says he was very disappointed when Blaenau Gwent entered a second shutdown last week.
He said, “It’s definitely frustrating for people in the area because we are used to getting out and doing what we wanted again, so getting back into lockdown is difficult.
“It’s annoying that we have to do that of course, but when we took it seriously during the summer months, the infection rate was very low here, so I hope that if we take it seriously again, we’ll see the numbers start falling very quickly.
“To be honest, I was a little disgusted when I heard we were the place in Wales with the most cases, but at this point I don’t think it helps. People are starting to deal with things as the rules are starting to get easier and I think we were just caught because of that.”
Cases in Blaenau Gwent may have started in individual groups linked to a bar, a mental health facility in Ysbyty’r Tri Chwm, a nursing home and a comprehensive school.
But the virus now appears to be spreading through the local community in the Council, which has a population of 69,000, one of the smallest in Wales.
Dr. Jerry Shenkar He previously said WalesOnline: “In the beginning we had cases clustered around a bar, and there were a number of contacts, the bar owners, who required a number of other contacts to isolate themselves.
“There were a lot of groups of pubs, then there were a lot of other locations where cases happen. This was also in a primary school, and then there was one in a nursing home, so I think it’s a combination of home transportation and hospitality buildings and schools and nursing homes that drive Cases rate.
He said the Public Health Authority was actively looking for cases now, saying, “There was a mobile testing unit, including a walk-through test, so easy access to the test actually means we’re looking really hard to find cases. “.
Kim Maguire, 57, owns John Jenkins gift shop and says that although she also felt some frustration with the situation, she is more nervous about being in an area where the virus is spreading very quickly through society.
She said: “I was surprised to hear that Blaenau Gwent has become the worst in Wales over the past few weeks because we looked like we did a good job when we first closed earlier this year.
“It’s sad that the area definitely gets that name, but there is also a lot of fear of locals worrying about themselves and their families about picking it up.”
Making her way to the nearby town of Ebbw Vale from Glenkwood, she says she is totally confused and suspicious of the way the government has handled the situation, and wants more clarity as to what the numbers actually mean.
“We are now in a situation where two and two are not charging four, and for all of the residents in Plainau Joint who are completely confused with the current restrictions, the time is tough,” she said.
“I would say the Welsh government has been a little better than the UK as a whole, but to be honest there have been so many conflicting messages coming to us that it is not surprising to me to hear that the numbers have been on the rise here and elsewhere.
“I personally do not know anyone who has contracted the virus, and while we were strictly abiding by the rules given, I must wonder if the number of cases here now is just the result of more testing.”
Blaenau Gwent MS Alun Davies was quick to disprove these concerns, and was keen to encourage people to follow the procedures as closely as possible in order to avoid further township restrictions.
He said, “I’ve heard some people are talking about more cases emerging as a result of more tests, but I want people to know that this is not the case at all.
“Tests show that we have a more prevalent rate of infection here in Blaenau Gwent at the moment, which is nearly twice the average for the rest of Wales, so we have to deal with it.
“There are a lot of small, close-knit communities in the area, so it stands to reason that a contagious virus like Covid-19 could spread very quickly throughout them.
“We have a strong track record of collaborating at Blaenau Gwent, so I’m sure we’ll be able to lower the numbers, as has been the case in other closed neighborhoods like Caerphilly.
“If it is not resolved, we may have to consider deeper restrictions on the area, but fortunately we are not there yet.”
As for Paula Coleman, while she says she takes the new measures very seriously, she is very concerned about the impact it could have on her iconic skincare store on Bethkar Street.
She said, “At the moment I am very concerned about the situation with the virus, and there is also concern about my business. We usually have a lot of regular shoppers coming from Merthyr or Rimini on the bus who wouldn’t be able to come now, and that will have a huge impact.”
“It’s a crazy time, and with a part of Wales being named with most cases, not many people may want to go back, and that’s a fear too.”
Wayne Dance has lived in Cwm all his life and says the government and locals need to take responsibility for the way the situation got out of control here in Blaenau Gwent if it is to get better.
He said, “I’ve lived in Cwm all my life, and I think we always have this sense of safety and security of being out of the way in the valleys, but with this virus it’s on our doorstep.”
“Sure, people haven’t taken it very seriously lately on trips to shops and pubs, but there are also many mixed messages coming from the Welsh government and the UK and you just can’t blame people.
“I am not a finger pointing person but I would like more clarity on why exactly there are the largest number of cases in Wales, and what happened to us until we end up like this.”
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