Lockdown restrictions in Wales will be strengthened in “key areas” to try to halt the spread of the new coronavirus variant, the country’s First Minister has announced.
Mark Drakeford on Friday urged people to stay at home to save lives as he confirmed the Level 4 coronavirus restrictions in Wales will not be lifted.
He also said that measures will be strengthened in some key areas to prevent the new strain of the virus spreading in shops and workplaces which remain open.
Mr Drakeford also warned that unless there was a “significant” drop in cases before January 29 – when the next three-week review of the regulations is carried out – school and college students will continue to learn online until the February half-term.
He said: “The coronavirus pandemic has reached a significant point.
“Cases in Wales remain very high and our NHS is under real and sustained pressure.
“The alert Level 4 restrictions we introduced before Christmas must remain in place to keep us all safe.
“To slow the spread of the virus, we all must stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives.”
The Welsh Government said the new variant strain of the virus now had a firm foothold in North Wales.
It said that following a formal review of the restrictions, which were introduced at midnight on December 19, all the measures will remain in place.
This means non-essential retail, hospitality venues, licensed premises and leisure facilities will remain closed, and people must stay home, work from home if they can, keep two metres from other people, wear face coverings in indoor public places and not meet anyone outside their household or support bubbles.
The measures will also be strengthened to close all showrooms, although they will still be able to operate click-and-collect services.
The Welsh Government is also reviewing whether major supermarkets and retailers need to put additional measures in place to protect people in store and what else employers need to do to protect people in the workplace and support people to work from home, it said.
On Thursday, Public Health Wales said there had been a further 1,718 cases of coronavirus in Wales, taking the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 163,234.
A further 63 deaths were reported, bringing the total in Wales since the start of the pandemic to 3,801.
Figures show the seven-day incidence rate for Wales until January 2 was 486.5 cases per 100,000 people while the testing positivity rate was 24.3%.
Mr Drakeford said the vaccines being rolled out were a path out of the pandemic.
He added: “These feel like dark times but the new Covid-19 vaccines are being rolled out across Wales, giving us a path out of this pandemic.
“It will take a huge effort to vaccinate everyone and, despite the end of this pandemic being in sight, it is more important than ever that we follow the rules and stay at home. We have made so many sacrifices together and we mustn’t stop now.”