WThe ales will enter a nationwide lockdown from midnight tonight, Prime Minister Mark Drakeford said.
Mr Drakeford said the situation was ‘incredibly serious’ and the release of the new Covid-19 variant meant that strict lockdown restrictions would be postponed until Saturday.
Restrictions were due to be relaxed from December 23 to 28, but people in Wales will now only be able to bubble with another household on Christmas Day.
Meanwhile, Nicola Sturgeon said Scotland will return to lockdown after Boxing Day for three weeks and the Christmas ‘bubble’ policy has been scrapped with household mixing only allowed on Christmas Day. .
A travel ban between Scotland and other parts of the UK – except for essential purposes – will remain, Ms Sturgeon saying she will speak to police and transport operators to see how this can be ‘stepped up’ .
Speaking about the announcement in Wales, Mr Drakeford said the pattern of transmission in London and south-east England linked to the new variant of the coronavirus is’ remarkably consistent with the rapid acceleration of transmission in Wales’ in recent weeks.
In a statement, the Prime Minister explained that the latest evidence suggested the new strain was present “all over Wales” and said it needed an “immediate response”.
The Welsh government cabinet met on Saturday to discuss the ‘worrying new development in the pandemic’, as well as advice from top medical and scientific advisers, including the impact on the Wales NHS.
“The situation is incredibly serious. I can’t overstate this, ”Mr. Drakeford said.
“We have therefore come to the difficult decision to bring forward the Alert Level 4 restrictions for Wales, in line with actions taken in London and the south-east of England.
“These new restrictions will take effect from midnight tonight rather than during the Christmas season. ”
Non-essential shops, convenience services, gyms and leisure centers and hotels will close in Wales when trading ends on Saturday as part of the new lockdown.
“Sadly, we also need to revisit the arrangements for Christmas – we cannot put people at risk from this new, more virulent strain of coronavirus,” Mr Drakeford said.
“So we’re going to change the current rules, which allow two households to come together to form a Christmas bubble over a five-day period, so that they only apply on Christmas Day.
“Throughout the Alert Level 4 period, a one-person household may join another household.
“As we all want to avoid further disruption to business and projects for Christmas, our overriding duty is to protect lives here in Wales.”
In Scotland, schools will be open to key workers as usual, but the majority of students will not return on January 11, with e-learning at least until January 18.
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Non-essential stores will close as will cafes, restaurants and hairdressers. Orkney, Shetland, West Isles and other island communities will upgrade to level 3.
Paul Davies, leader of the Welsh Conservatives, said he had been briefed on Saturday by Wales’ Prime Minister Mark Drakeford and appreciated the need for “tougher restrictions” in the country.
“I know a lot of people will be disappointed as they were eager to see their loved ones on Christmas, but in the face of new evidence, it is clear that the Christmas bubble arrangements need to change,” Davies said.
“By working together and playing by the rules, we can ensure that as many people as possible will be there to celebrate Christmas together for years to come.”
Additional reporting from PA Media.