MARK Drakeford has today launched the coronavirus winter plan for Wales, setting out the options available to manage the pandemic over the coming months.

With the health service still under pressure, there are already warnings that this could be a difficult winter.

The success of the vaccination programme means that we are in a much better position to deal with Covid-19 this year than we were 12 months ago, when a series of local restrictions and a 'fire break' were followed by a snap return to full lockdown just days before Christmas.

But the Welsh Government, in the new edition of the national Coronavirus Control Plan, published today, admits that Covid "has repeatedly surprised us" and there is "uncertainty about the course of the pandemic over the winter".

Read more about the headlines from today's press conference here.

Wales will therefore have two options available for the coming winter, depending on the severity of the pandemic. These are the less severe Covid Stable scenario, and the more severe Covid Urgent scenario. 

Let's take a look at what may lie in store:

Will businesses stay open this winter?

Yes – businesses will stay open unless the government has to reintroduce restrictions "as a last resort", and even then, new rules will be applied proportionate to the severity of the situation.

In the Covid Stable scenario, there are no plans to close any businesses, but if cases rise the government could use other measures – such as extending the Covid Pass scheme to other settings – to keep the economy open.

Think of Covid Stable as "business as usual", the government said today.

But this means people in Wales are still expected to work from home "wherever possible". So even if businesses stay open this winter, there is unlikely to be a huge change in many people's working and commuting habits.

Could we see a return of lockdowns?

While winter 2021 should be less bumpy than in 2020, thanks to the vaccines, the new plan describes Covid-19 as an "unpredictable" virus, and the Covid Urgent scenario sets out plans for what may happen if pressures on the NHS become too great.

This may happen if a new, potent strain of the virus emerges (like the 'Kent' variant that spread rapidly last winter) or in the event that people's vaccine protections disappear.

In a situation like this, the government would reintroduce the tiered alert level system, with more severe restrictions in the higher levels. This would include a return to full lockdown if Wales went back into alert level four.

But this is unlikely.

"While we do not think measures under a Covid Urgent scenario will be necessary this autumn or winter, we cannot completely rule them out as a last resort," the Welsh Government said today. 

How will the Welsh Government decide which plan to use?

If nothing dramatic happens over the coming months, Wales will stick to its "business as usual" Covid Stable plan, with no major changes to our lives.

The Covid Pass scheme is coming into force for nightclubs and large events on Monday, but other than that there are no current plans for extra rules.

Ministers and their health advisers will have to answer four questions if they are considering changing to the more serious Covid Urgent scenario.

• What impact are COVID-19 and other respiratory infections having on population health and the NHS and social care in Wales?

• Are people in Wales vaccinated, and do they have protection from the circulating variants?

• What’s the situation in key settings, such as schools, colleges, universities, and prisons?

• What is the international situation?

The central question is whether the NHS will be able to cope this winter, not just with any rise in coronavirus patients but also with wider pressures and demand for services. Wales will publish its NHS winter plan at the end of October.

But there will also be one eye on what's happening elsewhere, and whether any new 'variants of concern' pop up in other countries. This week Wales reluctantly agreed to follow the more relaxed traffic-light rules on international travel proposed by the UK government. If things get bad in other parts of the world, we should expect to see those travel rules tightened once more.

What's the situation in the rest of the UK this winter?

Over the border, the UK Government has set out a similar two-scenario plan for England this winter.

Just like in Wales, their Plan A represents little change to the rules currently in place, but if things get bad then Boris Johnson would switch to the more serious Plan B scenario and bring in extra measures and restrictions.

These could include asking people to work from home, reintroducing mask-wearing rules for some public places, and bringing in vaccine passport-style checks for some events.

The UK Government said it "remains committed to doing whatever it takes to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed" in England.

Elsewhere in the UK, the rules remain more strict. Scotland has introduced a vaccine passport scheme, though its launch was hit with teething problems. People still have to wear masks on public transport and in shops, and working from home is still recommended. The government there has not yet set out a winter plan. 

In Northern Ireland, there are still rules in place on social distancing in pubs and restaurants, and on the number of people who can meet indoors. Ministers there have said current rules on mask-wearing, Covid risk assessments and the taking of customers' details in hospitality settings will continue over the winter.

Will there be more funding if businesses have to close?

The Welsh Government said it has "retained funding in this financial year if further emergency business support is needed".

But UK-wide schemes such as furlough for workers will not be continuing.

Traders in Wales who need support may be eligible for schemes like the Economic Futures Fund, the Foundational Economy fund, and the Development Bank of Wales.

Support and advice can also be requested from the Business Wales service.

What can we do to stay safe?

The Covid Stable scenario is "business as usual", and this means current rules are staying in place for the autumn and winter.

So mask-wearing is still required by law on public transport and in public places like shops.

Social distancing is still recommended, as is working from home "wherever possible".

If you develop symptoms, you should still isolate and book a test – and anyone who tests positive still has to self-isolate for 10 days by law.

Businesses must continue to carry out Covid risk assessments and put in place measures to minimise the risk of the virus being spread, or risk being punished by local enforcement inspectors.

Basic public health guidance on hand-washing, keeping indoor areas well-ventilated, and keeping your distance from other people is still recommended.

And the "most effective defence against harm" continues to be the vaccination programme. Anyone who is eligible but has not yet received a vaccine can find out more information on the Welsh Government website.