A social care leader has warned the public in Wales not to become complacent and to "remain vigilant” as the number of Covid deaths in care homes continue fall.
Mario Kreft MBE, chair of Care Forum Wales, said new, more contagious and potentially more dangerous mutant strains of the virus could still throw a spanner in the works.
It was vitally important, he stressed, that people adhered to sensible safeguards like social distancing, wearing masks and sanitising properly.
The importance of doing the right thing was underlined by the catastrophic death toll in care homes since the onset of the pandemic.
The latest figures show that a total of 8.043 adult care home residents had died since March 1 last year – that was 43 per cent higher than the same period two years ago.
The rollout of the vaccine had led to a significant decrease in the number of Covid deaths in care homes .
According to Care Inspectorate Wales, there had been a 16.5 per cent decrease – down from 238 to 173 - in the number of cases involving residents and staff in the previous 20 days.
Following a peak of 20 care homes deaths per day on January 21, there were now around three deaths per day, which was similar to the number observed at the beginning of November.
Mr Kreft said: “It is excellent news that the number of deaths in care homes is now decreasing and it is a clear indication that the vaccine rollout is having a major impact in helping to protect residents and staff from this deadly disease but we are not out of the woods yet, far from it.
“However, emerging mutant strains of Covid are a real cause for concern because they are more contagious and it’s feared the new variant from Brazil may be more resistant to the vaccine, posing a real risk to elderly, frail and vulnerable people.
“It is vitally important that we do not become complacent. We must remain hugely vigilant and I would appeal to people to adhere to all the sensible safeguards like social distancing, wearing masks and sanitising properly.
“Our first and most important priority is ensuring the health, safety and wellbeing of our residents and staff so we need to adopt a cautious approach to care home visiting.
“Thanks to the availability of the vaccines, there is now light at the end of this very dark tunnel. This is hopefully the beginning of the end of this nightmare and it would be a tragedy if we blew it when we are so close to the finish line.
“Another level of protection would be provided if care homes in Wales were allowed to refuse to hire staff who have not had a Covid jab unless they have a legitimate medical reason because it only takes one person to bring one of the new strains of the virus into vulnerable people.”
“The statistics are also a stark illustration of the scale of the Covid catastrophe and the tragic toll the pandemic has taken on residents, despite the heroic efforts of front line staff, managers and care home owners. The number of deaths in care homes since March 1 last year is 43 per cent higher than the same period two years ago.
“While the success of the vaccine rollout is a real positive, we must never forget those we have lost and we must honour their memory by doing everything in our power to protect the vulnerable people for whom we have pledged to provide care.”