The so-called ‘Kent variant’ of Covid-19 is now the dominant strain in most parts of Wales, according to the Welsh Government’s scientific adviser Rob Orford.
He said the new strain which is believed to be more transmissible is now present in all regions at levels of 50% or more.
“We believe this strain has been driving the high rates of cases seen over the Christmas period and into the new year,” he said.
“What we can say at this stage is that this new strain is more contagious and travels very quickly, causing more people to catch coronavirus, which in turn may put the health system under more strain.”
He also said that there have also been 10 cases of the South African variant identified in Wales, with all being cases from people who have travelled abroad.
“We are also closely tracking three other new variants, which have emerged in close succession in South Africa and Brazil,” he said.
He said that the new variants presented “new challenges” which could “alter the course of the pandemic”.
“A concern is that a new variant could emerge, which won’t respond to our treatments or vaccines – putting us back to where we began,” he said.
Chief Medical Officer Frank Atherton said that the emphasis will be on reopening schools once they are able to do so.
“We know vaccine can give protection but we don’t know to what extent it can stop transmission from person to person,” he said.
“At the moment that means we should all be staying home and lockdown continues.”
He said that the government should stick to an all-Wales approach.
“We’ve talked before about having a north Wales and south Wales approach but the virus moves so quickly that we’ve decided that an all-Wales approach is best,” he said.
Asked whether he would have done anything differently in hindsight in handling the pandemic, he said that to begin with they handled it much like pandemic flu, but now knew it spread very differently.