Wales is bringing in tougher rules on Christmas get-togethers and will enter its third lockdown on December 28 after coronavirus escalated ‘beyond crisis point’.
In a dramatic break with the UK-wide approach, Wales’s Labour-run administration will change the law so just two households can mix rather than three.
First Minister Mark Drakeford also said the nation would go back into lockdown once the five-day Christmas relaxation of rules is over.
Wales currently has the highest infection rate in the UK – 425 per 100,000 people – with eight of the top ten worst-hit areas.
Mr Drakeford said one in five people in Wales is testing positive for the virus, while more than 2,100 are in hospital with symptoms. A record 98 are in intensive care.
Third Welsh lockdown: ‘Tier 4’ imposed as Christmas mixing limited
Meanwhile, in Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon yesterday urged Scots to stay at home at Christmas. She said if people felt it was ‘essential’ to meet others indoors, this should be for one day only and not overnight.
Wales only ended a 17-day ‘firebreak’ lockdown on November 8.
Mr Drakeford said new measures were necessary because the situation had become ‘so serious’. He stressed that the ‘sustained rise in coronavirus’ meant the country would go into its third lockdown from Monday December 28.
Non-essential shops and gyms will close earlier – on the evening of Christmas Eve – while all restaurants, pubs and bars will shut from 6pm on Christmas Day. From December 28, tighter rules will restrict household mixing, travel and holiday accommodation.
Mr Drakeford said Wales’s move into the fourth and highest level of restrictions would last for three weeks before being reviewed. He insisted: ‘The situation we are facing is extremely serious.
‘We must move to alert level four and tighten the restrictions to control the spread of coronavirus and save lives.’
The First Minister also toughened up the Christmas advice, changing the law so that no more than two households can mix.
He said: ‘A shorter Christmas is a safer Christmas.’
The Welsh government later said that the guidance on two households would be enshrined in law.
Matthew Jones, clinical director for emergency care at the Prince of Wales hospital, told ITV that ambulances were queuing outside with patients.
He said: ‘With the ambulances outside like this, there’s a strong argument that we are beyond crisis point – that this isn’t safe.’
Opposition leaders accused the Welsh government of losing the battle against the pandemic.
Welsh ambulance service under intense pressure with Covid-19
Welsh Tory leader Paul Davies said: ‘It has become very clear in recent days that the Welsh Labour-led government has lost control of the pandemic and we now need a fire blanket, not a firebreak, to put out the flames of infection that are raging in some parts of the country.
While nobody wants to see further restrictions imposed, in the face of some of the highest rates of coronavirus infection in Western Europe and with rates rising in all parts of Wales, doing nothing is not an option.’
The current infection rate of 425 compares with 234.5 for the week before the firebreak lockdown.