"IT IS our ambition to keep Wales as open as it is now in the important run up to Christmas."

That was the message from first minister Mark Drakeford during a visit to Wrexham on Wednesday.

Businesses are facing a second Christmas period during the coronavirus pandemic, with many fearing increasing numbers of covid cases could see a repeat of last year's lockdown implemented days before Christmas.

Speaking to the Argus' sister paper the Leader, Mr Drakeford said he was keen to avoid another lockdown before the end of the year.

He said the government in Wales was faced with a balancing act of keeping people safe while keeping businesses open.

He said: "It is absolutely our ambition to keep Wales safe and to keep Wales open. Those are the two things we are focussed on all the time.

"I was in Wrexham over Christmas last year. It was one of the hardest decisions we faced as a Welsh Government as we came to Christmas last year and the numbers were rising so fast and the impact on the hospital service was so great that we did end up having to take action.

"I'm very keen indeed to avoid that this year."

However, he said with cases remaining high in all parts of Wales, tougher measures would never be off the table if it meant keeping people safe and out of hospital.

He added: "Things continue to be incredibly volatile.

"Everything we are seeing on the continent of Europe at the moment, I think nobody completely understands whether we've gone through that and they are following us or whether what they are going through there is about to hit us here.

"So all our efforts will be to trying to keep as much, as much as we've got now, open as it is in that very important run up to Christmas.

"But if we were to be struck by a sudden wave of the sort we've seen elsewhere then I'm afraid we would have to respond to it."

Although people in Wales have endured almost two years of lockdowns, fire breaks, and covid restrictions, Mr Drakeford said he felt the majority still supported the Welsh Government's cautious approach, despite their counterparts in England enjoying more freedoms.

He said: "I think the bulk of people in Wales still prefer us to take a slightly more precautionary sense - coronavirus is not over.

"Nearly 2,000 people fell ill in Wales yesterday with the disease. Some of those people will be very seriously ill as a result. While it is frustrating, I understand that, I think most people would prefer we err on the side of caution. That is about keeping yourself safe and other people that matter to you safe.

"The things we ask people to do, wearing a mask in crowded places or showing a covid pass in places where there are a lot of other people, I think most people would regard those as things that will keep them safe and are worth doing."