Iain Dale 7pm - 10pm
Welsh lockdown extended due to new Covid variant, first minister tells LBC
8 January 2021, 00:01 | Updated: 8 January 2021, 11:59
Wales's lockdown will be extended by three weeks and will be strengthened in "key areas" to try to halt the spread of the new Covid variant, the country's first minister has told LBC.
Mark Drakeford told LBC's James O'Brien that his government expects the new strain to account for 90 per cent of all new cases in north Wales within a week, with south Wales "not very far behind".
It comes as he urged people to stay at home to save lives after he confirmed the Level 4 coronavirus restrictions in Wales will not be lifted.
Schools will stay closed until February and it is unlikely they will reopen after the half term. A review is under way into whether tighter controls are needed at supermarkets and in shops.
The first minister said that although actions taken by the Welsh Government before Christmas have helped reduce infections, cases continue to be "at a very serious level but".
"I was answering a lot of questions before Christmas about why Wales has a more serious level of coronavirus in the United Kingdom, (but since then) we've dropped back," he told LBC.
"Rates in England and Northern Ireland, sadly, are higher than they are in Wales now and those rates are undoubtedly being driven by the new variant of coronavirus which is in every part of Wales, but particularly in north Wales.
"We expect that within a week or so 90 per cent of all new cases in north Wales will be of the new variant and south Wales will not be very far behind.
"We're dealing with the fact that it is so much more infectious and so much more quickly caught while the lockdown measures we took on 20 December are beginning to have an impact in slowing the rise of the virus in Wales and hopefully creating some headroom for our health service to go on managing with all the stresses and strains it is currently facing."
On Friday, the Welsh Government confirmed the Level 4 coronavirus restrictions in Wales will not be lifted.
In a statement, Mr Drakeford 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 also said the new variant 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."