With people in Wales still coming to terms with a significantly less merry Christmas the First Minister has give more details on the new mutation of coronavirus that has prompted the full lockdown.
New data over the weekend forced the Welsh Government to imposing even stricter restrictions on Wales over the Christmas break with just mixing with just one household on December 25 all that is permitted.
Speaking at the Welsh Government press conference Mark Drakeford was joined by deputy chief medical officer Dr Chris Jones in what the Welsh Government say will be the last such press conference of the year.
This is everything the First Minister said:
Prynhawn da and thank you for joining me for this last Welsh Government briefing of the year.
Today, I had hoped to look forward to better times in 2021.
Unfortunately, I need instead to talk to you about the latest challenge we face.
As you have heard over the last few days, a new, mutated strain of coronavirus has been identified. It is much more infectious and is moving quickly in Wales.
I am joined by Dr Chris Jones, Wales’ deputy chief medical officer, who will explain more about this new strain of the virus.
Here in Wales, the pandemic changed gear in late November, quickly eroding the gains from the firebreak, causing a massive increase in cases and hospitalisations.
Now we have a better understanding of why this happened.
At the end of November, the seven-day coronavirus rate for Wales was 232 cases per 100,000 people. Today it is almost three times that at 623 and rising.
A month ago, there were just under 1,700 people with coronavirus symptoms in our hospitals; today there are more than 2,300 and rising.
Our critical care units are operating far beyond their normal capacity and our NHS staff are stretched to their limit.
And very sadly, over this weekend alone, Public Health Wales reported more than 100 deaths.
That’s 100 families mourning the loss of a loved one this Christmas. My thoughts are with them all.
Unless we can regain some control of the spread of coronavirus, I am sorry to say we will see more deaths.
If we continue to see cases rise unchecked, fuelled by this new, highly infectious strain of the virus, the effect on our NHS will be profound.
We must prevent this from happening.
On Saturday, I took part in an urgent meeting with the Scottish and Northern Irish First Ministers, with Michael Gove from the UK Government and with the most senior clinical and scientific advisers.
We received new and worrying information about how widespread this new strain of the virus was and how quickly it is moving.
During Saturday afternoon, the Welsh Cabinet received further information about the spread of the new variant strain in Wales and about the significant pressure all parts of the NHS is experiencing.
As a result, we took immediate action to bring forward the alert level four restrictions and change the Christmas arrangements because of the incredibly serious turn the pandemic had taken in Wales.
I’m sorry we were not able to give you more notice about the changes.
We took swift action to prevent further harm and save lives across Wales.
We have extended the Restrictions Business Fund by an extra £110m to £270m for companies affected by the alert level three and four restrictions. There is also a £180m fund for hospitality and supply chain businesses.
Local authorities are working incredibly hard to get financial support to businesses as quickly as possible.
If the UK Government provides support to businesses in London and the South East, which also had to close, we will pass all the additional funding on to businesses here in Wales.
Unlike in previous lockdowns, all retailers will also be able to offer click and collect services but all non-essential retail is now closed.
2020 has been an extraordinary year and a very difficult one for all of us.
This pandemic has been full of surprises and it’s taken another unpleasant turn, just as we were preparing to celebrate Christmas.
This new strain is another challenge for us, but it’s one we will manage together.
Together, we have come through so much this year.
From those very early days at the start of the pandemic when we just learning about this virus to long summer days, when coronavirus was in retreat.
The last few months have been challenging, but throughout them all our greatest strength has been you and the way you have responded to the virus to keep each other safe.
For so many months, you have followed the many rules, kept a 2m distance, washed your hands and worn a face mask.
Now we all need to redouble those efforts in the face of this new strain of the virus.
If we keep ourselves and our loved ones safe, there’s a brighter 2021 ahead of us.
A vaccine, which offers us the hope of a different relationship with this virus. And hopefully another vaccine just around the corner.
Diolch o galon i chi gyd a Nadolig Llawen pawb.
For the last time this year, we will take questions from journalists. As usual, all the answers will be broadcast live on our social media channels.
This is everything the deputy chief medical officer said:
Thank you First Minister.
The first thing to say is that all viruses can and do change. Genetic mutations are a natural phenomenon of viruses. This coronavirus is no different.
We have seen a number of mutations since the SARS-Cov-2 virus was first identified in Wuhan just over a year ago.
But this new strain of the coronavirus, which has been detected in the UK and two other countries is concerning.
We are mainly seeing it in London and the South East of England and in Wales. The way the virus has spread rapidly in these areas is very similar.
This new strain appears to be much more infectious than the strain, which originated in Wuhan, and is more easily transmitted from person to person.
At this stage, we don’t believe it causes a more serious illness and we do not believe it will affect how the vaccine works.
But we will continue to closely monitor this new variant and what the scientific evidence is telling us.
On Monday last week, we were aware of 10 cases in Wales.
By Friday, this had risen to 20, mainly in Bridgend and the Vale of Glamorgan.
But a new analysis by the weekend, suggested this new strain is much more common and it is present all over Wales – this includes North Wales where overall rates of the virus are lower than in South Wales.
ONS infection survey data published at the weekend shows the new strain was present in 28% of samples from Wales in the second week of December, more than double the number in the previous week.
We believe this new strain could be causing up to 60% of coronavirus infections in Wales.
This new variant looks very likely to be the significant driver of the huge growth in cases we’ve seen in Wales in recent weeks.
I will hand back to the First Minister, but I’m happy to take questions later.