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Vaughan Gething told BBC Radio Wales the stay-at-home rule was introduced from midnight “partly” as a result of a new strain of the virus.

The variant had been “seeded” in all parts of Wales, including the north.

Ministers have been shown evidence that the strain is “much more infectious”, he said.

Opposition leaders are calling for the Welsh Parliament to be recalled during recess.

All of Wales is in the highest level of lockdown – level four – with all but essential shops closed, and people being told to “stay home” to save lives.

Q&A: What has changed as Wales locks down? Wales locks down as Christmas plans cut

Meeting up is now limited to Christmas Day.

Pressure on the NHS has exceeded the Welsh Government’s worst case scenario and without action there will be an “even bigger spike in cases”, Mr Gething said.

“It would [the NHS] be in danger of not being able to cope if we don’t act – and there’s still a risk even now,” he said.

Further cases were “baked in” due to people mixing in the run up to lockdown, he told BBC Radio Wales’ Sunday Supplement.

“Over the next few weeks we know that there’ll be a problem.

“We know that despite the rules some people will still mix.

“There are people who, I’m afraid, we can be confident will see multiple different households and we will see a post-Christmas spike.

“If we can’t have more and more of us doing the right thing then we do risk our National Health Service becoming overwhelmed.”

Mr Gething said the new strain was “in every part of Wales, including right across north Wales”.

“We’ve seen cases rise significantly in the south,” he said.

Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price said announcing the level 4 Covid restrictions sooner would have stopped people rushing to the shops on Saturday night.

“I think delay is the worst mistake you can make. You don’t want to be in a situation where you’re playing catch up,” he said.

Conservative shadow health minister Andrew RT Davies said there was “colossal” pressure on the NHS, but said ministers needed to provide evidence to support their actions.

“You can’t just let the government come on here and make a statement with such dramatic implications for society in Wales,” he said.

The Covid-19 case rate for Wales has jumped to 592.3 cases per 100,000 for the past seven days, up from 530.2 on Thursday.

The seven day rolling case rate remains highest in Merthyr Tydfil at 1,233.3, followed by Bridgend on 1,028.2 and Blaenau Gwent on 929.

The Welsh Government held an emergency cabinet meeting on Saturday amid “serious concerns” over the new strain of coronavirus.

The World Health Organization has said it is in “close contact” with UK officials over its emergence, although it is not believed to be more deadly.

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In Wales, plans to relax rules from 23 to 27 December to allow people to celebrate with loved-ones have been scaled back to 25 December only.

Gyms and beauty salons and non-essential shops closed at the end of trading on Saturday, while bars and restaurants will only be able to open for takeaways, and people will only be allowed to travel for “essential reasons”.

During the level four lockdown period people will not be allowed to mix with anyone they do not live with, with only single person households allowed to form an exclusive support bubble with one other household.

The Welsh Government has spoken to councils and the police “because we do want to see more enforcement take place”, said Mr Gething said.

But officers in Wales say they have been called on to enforce sometimes “unpopular” Covid rules.

A stringent new Covid lockdown has also come into force in London and parts of east and south-east England.

Covid restrictions will only be relaxed on Christmas Day in Scotland and its mainland will then be placed under the tightest restrictions from Boxing Day.

SOCIAL DISTANCING: Can I give my friends a hug? FACE MASKS: When do I need to wear one? TESTING: How do I get a virus test? SYMPTOMS: What are they and how to guard against them?

SOCIAL DISTANCING: Can I give my friends a hug? FACE MASKS: When do I need to wear one? TESTING: How do I get a virus test? SYMPTOMS: What are they and how to guard against them?

Related Topics Vaughan Gething Merthyr Tydfil Christmas Coronavirus lockdown measures Coronavirus pandemic Adam Price Wales business

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