‘Staying at Home’ policy has reduced spread of coronavirus, but has also had other positive and negative impacts on the well-being of Welsh society

The Welsh Government’s ‘Staying at Home’ policy has played a major role in protecting the health of people in Wales by reducing the spread of coronavirus, according to a new report by Public Health Wales. 

Other positive impacts of the policy include increased levels of volunteering, communities coming together to protect those who are more vulnerable, and a reduction in vehicle traffic leading to reduced pollution and improved air quality.

However, the report A Health Impact Assessment of the ‘Staying at Home and Social Distancing Policy’ in Wales in response to the COVID-19 pandemic also highlights significant negative impacts for individuals and communities.

 For example, the economic downturn has reduced income and increased unemployment, with low income households being most affected.  This is despite national support measures such as furloughing of employees.

Although the situation is still evolving, the report finds that the ‘Staying at Home’ policy has affected virtually all aspects of life in Wales.

Dr Sumina Azam, Consultant in Public Health, Policy and International Health, WHO Collaborating Centre on Investment for Health and Wellbeing, Public Health Wales, said:

“This report brings together evidence from a range of sources and highlights how the measures to protect us from coronavirus are having impacts across the whole of society.  For example, the loss of social contact as a result of lockdown has led to more people feeling isolated. We know that there have been other negative effects on mental well-being, with those most at risk including healthcare workers, women, people on low incomes, those with existing mental health conditions, and older people.

“Some of the impacts could last for the long term and also increase health inequalities. The report helps to identify where we need to act to prevent such unintended consequences.”

Liz Green, Programme Director for Health Impact Assessment at Public Health Wales said:

“Predicting health outcomes is complex and difficult, even more so in the context of ongoing restrictions and a rapidly changing situation.  Nevertheless, this Health Impact Assessment provides plenty to think about, including helping to inform decisions and ensuring that the least harms and most benefits to health occur as restrictions are eased or in the event that lockdown needs to be re-introduced.”

Other key impacts highlighted by the report include:

  • The impact on children and young people who have had their education interrupted, have lost their routines and structures and missed being with their friends, with long term consequences for their educational attainment and life chances.
  • Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups have been identified as having worse health outcomes as a result of contracting coronavirus, and may also have experienced an increase in hate crimes.
  • The rapid increase in digital technology use has helped people stay connected, continue to work, and access education and key services such as health and social care.However, it has also led to some older people, those from disadvantaged backgrounds and people living in rural areas of Wales being excluded.
  • A reduction in the use of public transport, which could have a long-term impact when the restrictions are lifted.
  • Women and children are more likely to have experienced violence and domestic abuse in the home. 

In the longer term, the report identified opportunities to promote environmental sustainability, wellbeing and the role of health in future policy-making.