Respiratory illnesses such as the new Covid variant and a surge in flu cases will make it a tough winter, says the health board’s interim chief executive.

The Covid variant, dubbed Priola, is now in circulation and feared to be spreading more quickly than previous strains. Whilst older people and those with existing health conditions are encouraged to get vaccinations, Public Health Wales is also encouraging parents to vaccinate children against flu virus this autumn, to protect them from getting secondary infections.

Last winter nearly 800 children aged 2-16 years old hospitalised with respiratory illnesses, 78 per cent of whom were admitted due to flu. There is concern children who didn’t encounter the flu virus between 2020-2022, when there wasn’t a lot of social mixing, could be particularly vulnerable.

Speaking at the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board’s AGM at Trinity Community Centre in Llandudno this week, interim chief executive Carol Shillabeer warned north Wales was in for a tough winter.

“We are worried about winter because of the demands, because of the pressure on health and social care services, but we really are preparing hard for it,” she said.

“There have been some fantastic efforts by our staff, but the best advice is every single member of the community should prepare for winter.

“So that means getting your respiratory vaccines, whether it is for flu or Covid, stocking your medicine cupboard, and contacting our pharmacist when we need extra support and trying to keep as well as we can.

“From a service point of view, we will respond and maintain as much of that front-door emergency department capacity as we can, but it is going to be a tough winter.”

Dr Christopher Johnson, Consultant Epidemiologist and Head of Public Health Wales’ Vaccine Preventable Disease Programme said: “Flu can be serious.

“It is well known that having a flu vaccine every year is one of the most effective ways to protect against flu.

“Likewise the Covid-19 autumn booster vaccination extends the protection against serious illness. Any side effects from the vaccinations are normally mild and don’t last long.

“The chances of becoming seriously ill with Covid-19 or flu are greatly reduced by vaccination, as are the risks of spreading these viruses. Vaccination really is the best way to protect ourselves and others this winter from serious illness.”