Wales is in “the calm before the storm” and “there is a big wave coming”, the country’s leader has warned ahead of the return of tougher coronavirus restrictions in the face of the Omicron threat.
Without action being taken lives will be lost, First Minister Mark Drakeford told Sky News.
His stark assessment came as he announced that Wales would introduce new social distancing rules in offices and close nightclubs from 27 December in a bid to slow the spread of the highly contagious COVID-19 Omicron variant.
Coronavirus measures including one-way systems and physical barriers will also be introduced in businesses to protect customers and staff.
In addition, rules will be changed to include a requirement to work from home wherever possible.
Ahead of the new restrictions coming into force, people are being advised to follow five steps for a “safer Christmas”, including having a negative lateral flow test result before going shopping or meeting people, meeting in well-ventilated areas and wearing a face covering.
People are also being urged to reduce contact with others over the coming days, especially if Christmas plans include seeing older or more vulnerable people.
Mr Drakeford said: “This is the calm before the storm.
“This week the Delta variant continues to be the dominant variant in Wales, numbers are stable, hospital numbers are slowly coming down.
“But we know that the Omicron wave is brewing and when it arrives in Wales, it will rise very swiftly and very steeply and so we’re having to prepare for that as well.”
He added: “There is a big wave coming our way and unless we do the sensible things, lives that otherwise could be saved will be lost, our health service will face an enormous challenge. We can all do things to help. And that’s what people in Wales I know will want to do.”
Mr Drakeford also tore into Tory critics of Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, after he came under fire over advising the public to prioritise events over the festive period.
He said: “It’s not responsible at all. I think it is disgraceful that the chief medical officer of England should come under attack in that way.
“The chief medical officer is giving the best advice he can from his depth of clinical knowledge and understanding.
“It is very good advice indeed and I think it is disgraceful that he should be attacked and his message undermined by people who have nothing like the grasp that he has, of the Omicron variant and it’s likely affect the United Kingdom.
“I think those people should think very carefully about a period of silence on their part.”