Wales to go into lockdown at midnight and Christmas relaxation reduced to one day

Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford. Picture by the Welsh Government

Wales will go into lockdown at midnight tonight and the Christmas relaxation has dropped to just one day.

The rules which allow two households to come together to form a Christmas bubble over a five-day period will apply on Christmas Day only, the First Minister said.

Non-essential retail, close contact services, gyms, leisure centres and hospitality will close at end of trading today. Stay-at-home restrictions will come into force from midnight.

It comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put much of the south-east of England into a much stricter lockdown and banned travel over Christmas in those ‘Tier 4’ areas.

The change of plans come after it was revealed that a new Covid-19 strain is particularly virulent in the south-east of Wales and the south-east of England.

“We now know that this new strain is significantly more infectious and spreads more quickly than the original one,” Mark Drakeford said.

“This is remarkably consistent with the rapid acceleration of transmission in Wales and the high rates of cases we have seen in recent weeks.”

He said that the “situation is incredibly serious. I cannot overstate this.”

“We have therefore reached the difficult decision to bring forward the alert level four restrictions for Wales, in line with the action being taken in London and the South East of England,” he said.

“These new restrictions will come into effect from midnight tonight instead of during the Christmas period.

“This will mean non-essential retail, close contact services, gyms and leisure centres and hospitality will close at the end of trading today.

“Stay-at-home restrictions will also come into effect from midnight.

“Unfortunately, we must also look again at the arrangements for Christmas – we cannot expose people to the risk of this new, more virulent strain of coronavirus.

“We will therefore change the current rules, which allow two households to come together to form a Christmas bubble over a five-day period, so that they will apply on Christmas Day only.”

 

‘Disappointment’

Responding to the announcement from the First Minister that restrictions will come into effect in Wales from midnight tonight, Leader of Plaid Cymru Adam Price said it was the right call.

“In light of the strongest possible scientific advice, it is right to take decisive action to bring the level of cases under control, save lives and ease the mounting pressure on the NHS.

“It was for those reasons that we called on the Welsh Government to act earlier this week – rather than delay a decision which always seemed inevitable.

“The introduction of new, tighter restrictions will undoubtedly be a disappointment to those who had planned to see friends and family over the Christmas period.

“However, we all have a responsibility to keep one another safe. While we are once again asked to make a sacrifice at what is usually a sociable time of year, our collective effort is necessary, particularly as a new variant of Covid-19 has been identified.

“No one wanted a Christmas like this. This latest lockdown will amplify the need to rapidly roll out the vaccine, increase the financial support for those self-isolating and introduce a package of support to allow businesses to fully hibernate.”

Paul Davies MS, Leader of the Welsh Conservatives, said he supported the new restrictions announced tonight.

“Having been briefed by the First Minister today, I can fully appreciate the need for more severe restrictions in Wales, especially where infection rates are high, and the new strain of the virus is circulating,” he said.

“I know that many people will be disappointed as they were looking forward to seeing their loved ones this Christmas, but in the face of the emerging evidence it is clear that Christmas bubble arrangements must change.

“By working together and keeping to the rules we can ensure as many people as possible will be around to celebrate Christmas together in the years to come.”

The First Minister’s statement in its entirety

Today, I met the First Ministers of Scotland and Northern Ireland, and Michael Gove, from the UK Government, to discuss the very latest information on a new strain of coronavirus.

We now know that this new strain is significantly more infectious and spreads more quickly than the original one.

Many of you will have heard the Prime Minister this afternoon setting out the pattern of transmission in London and the South East of England, which has been linked to this new variant of coronavirus.

This is remarkably consistent with the rapid acceleration of transmission in Wales and the high rates of cases we have seen in recent weeks.

The latest evidence suggests this new strain is present throughout Wales.

Throughout the public health emergency, we have had to respond quickly to the rapid changes, which have been so typical of coronavirus.

Today has been one of those days when new information has required an immediate response.

This afternoon, the Cabinet met to discuss this worrying new development in the pandemic and to hear the latest advice from our senior medical and scientific advisers, including the impact on our NHS.

The situation is incredibly serious. I cannot overstate this.

We have therefore reached the difficult decision to bring forward the alert level four restrictions for Wales, in line with the action being taken in London and the South East of England.

These new restrictions will come into effect from midnight tonight instead of during the Christmas period.

This will mean non-essential retail, close contact services, gyms and leisure centres and hospitality will close at the end of trading today.

Stay-at-home restrictions will also come into effect from midnight.

Unfortunately, we must also look again at the arrangements for Christmas – we cannot expose people to the risk of this new, more virulent strain of coronavirus.

We will therefore change the current rules, which allow two households to come together to form a Christmas bubble over a five-day period, so that they will apply on Christmas Day only.

Throughout the alert level four period, a single person household will be able to join with one other household.

While we all want to avoid further disruption to businesses and plans for Christmas, our overriding duty is to protect lives here in Wales.

We know that 2021 will be a different and a better year.

Our economy will recover.

Christmas will come again.

But lives which are lost, are lost for ever.

This new strain of the virus is another dreadful surprise in this long-running pandemic.

We now have a pandemic within a pandemic, a crisis within a crisis.

It is another challenge we must overcome. But one we will overcome together.

We will continue to protect ourselves and our loved ones, and, together, we will keep Wales safe.

Diolch yn fawr iawn i chi gyd.

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