Lockdown measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus outbreak will be extended for at least three more weeks.
Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford announced the decision before Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab officially revealed the extension at the daily Downing Street briefing on Thursday.
Mr Raab, deputising for Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he recovers from the illness, said: “Any change to our social distancing measures now would risk a significant increase in the spread of the virus.”
He added relaxing rules could cause a ‘second peak’ which would risk increasing deaths ‘substantially’.
Ministers agreed the need to prolong social distancing measures following meetings of the Cabinet and the Government’s emergency committee Cobra, amid signs the epidemic in the UK is beginning to peak.
The news came as the Department of Health said the Covid-19 death toll in hospitals in the UK had reached 13,729 as of 5pm on Wednesday, up 861 on the figure the day before.
Mr Drakeford said in a statement following Thursday’s Cobra meeting the decision to extend the lockdown across the UK was ‘not taken lightly’.
He said: “Earlier this afternoon, I, along with the First Ministers of Scotland and Northern Ireland attended the UK Government’s COBRA meeting.
“We each confirmed our decisions that the current restrictions on movement to protect the NHS and so to save lives should continue for another three weeks.
“This is based on expert scientific analysis of the latest data on the coronavirus outbreak across the UK.”
Mr Drakeford continued: “I know that the last three weeks have been very difficult for many people.
“I want to thank everyone in Wales for the way each of us is dealing with these challenging circumstances.
“While we have seen some positive signs in the data, it is still too early to change course in dealing with this deadly virus. Many more lives are at stake, and too many families have already lost loved ones.
“Nevertheless, the decision to extend the lockdown is not one that has been taken lightly.
“But I am clear that we cannot risk throwing away all the sacrifices we have made here in Wales over the last few weeks by lifting the restrictions too soon. That could mean more deaths and, in the long run, even greater impact on people’s jobs and livelihoods.”