FAMILIES can look forward to a more normal Christmas than last year, but Wales' health minister has warned that the pandemic "won't be over" by December 25.

There is evidence Wales is moving past the peak of the current wave of infections, which have been driven by the spread of the Delta variant of Covid-19.

Case rates are falling, and today the health minister welcomed that news as "really positive".

Eluned Morgan was speaking at a press conference, updating the nation on the progress of the Welsh coronavirus vaccination rollout.

Although the picture is improving, the NHS is still under pressure and Ms Morgan said Wales was facing "potentially a very tough winter".

"It's clear the pandemic won't be over by Christmas," she added. 

Despite her forecast, the Welsh Government's current winter plans, which were announced by Mark Drakeford last week, do not suggest we will see a return to the lockdowns and restrictions on freedom that we saw 12 months ago, when festive plans were thrown into disarray just days before Christmas.

Wales, like the rest of the UK, had planned to allow a few days of slightly relaxed indoor mixing to allow people to see loved ones.

But those plans were axed across the four nations on December 19, when fears of the rapidly-spreading 'Kent variant' (now called 'Alpha') caused political leaders to announce a snap lockdown.

South Wales Argus: There were long queues outside this Smyths Toys store in Newport last December 19 as people rushed to buy Christmas gifts before lockdown.There were long queues outside this Smyths Toys store in Newport last December 19 as people rushed to buy Christmas gifts before lockdown.

That announcement sent crowds of people out to shops, rushing to buy Christmas gifts and food before Wales was plunged into full lockdown the following day – and it wouldn't be until mid-March this year that the "stay at home" order was repealed.

This year, however, largely thanks to the high vaccination rates that have been recorded across Wales, the government's new Coronavirus Control Plan for winter 2021 only includes a return of restrictions as a "last resort" in a worst-case scenario.

Unless something dramatic happens, such as the emergence of a new variant that evades vaccine protection, Wales will follow a winter plan called Covid Stable, that won't involve any changes to the current rules. We will be allowed to mix indoors, businesses will stay open, and there will be no restrictions on movement.

The only 'new' rule is that people in Wales will need a Covid Pass to enter nightclubs and some larger events – but this scheme began this week and will likely become the norm by December.

Ms Morgan said today, too, that Covid Passes may be required in future for places like care homes, if the situation gets worse.

Mask-wearing on public transport, social distancing and the recommendation to work from home wherever possible will all likely continue through the Christmas period, and the rules on self-isolating and booking a test if you develop symptoms will not change. Anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 will still have to isolate for 10 days.