New strain of coronavirus causing surge of cases in Wales, says health minister

The new variant of coronavirus is behind the rapid rise in cases in Wales, the health minister has said.

Speaking to ITV Wales, Vaughan Gething MS, said the decision to place the country into a national lockdown before Christmas was because of new information that the strain was causing the virus to spread faster.

''When the balance tips as it has done, with new information about the new strain of the virus that must spreads much more rapidly, a new strain of the virus we think is behind the surge in case rates we're seeing, you just can't avoid acting.''

As of Sunday, sixty nine people were confirmed to have died with coronavirus in Wales - bringing the total to 3,115. Health officials also confirmed 2,334 people have also tested positive in Wales as of Sunday.

It comes as Wales entered national lockdown at midnight after emergency talks took place between Welsh ministers over the growing concern about the new strain of the virus - which the first minister said ''hundreds'' of people in Wales were suffering from already.

The initial plans to relax rules over a five-day period were cut to just being allowed to form a Christmas bubble on Christmas Day, leaving families ''angry'' and upset.

Vaughan Gething acknowledged the ''interruption'' to people

The health minister acknowledged the interruptions and upset it may have caused, but urged the public to understand the ''urgency'' of the situation.

''There are always downsides with every choice we take. That's the reality of the decisions we're having to make and I really do hope the public understand the urgency of the position.''

''The rush for people, the interruption to people's preparations, I recognise all of that, the harm, the frustration, and the real anger but this is still about the Government having to do the right things despite the fact we know it will be unpopular.''

The Prime Minister announced similar restrictions for London and the South East of England. Credit: PA

It comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced areas in the south east of England currently in Tier 3 would move into a new Tier 4, effectively a lockdown, while the rest of England will also see the Christmas "bubble" policy cut so it only applies to Christmas Day.

In a statement on Saturday the chief medical officer for Wales Dr Frank Atherton said that there was "rapidly emerging" evidence the new variant appeared to be "significantly more transmissible than the wild type virus".

He said, despite a small sample size, an Office for National Statistics study showed that the new variant could be responsible for up to 60% of new infections in Wales.

"Emerging public health advice suggest that the new variant is at least contributing to, and possibly driving, this growth rate.''