COVID restrictions in Wales are set to be eased, with major changes to face mask and covid passes coming.

But, while the overall picture in regards to the potentially deadly virus is improving, a senior Welsh Government minister has issued a stark reminder that the virus remains at large in the community.

Speaking at a government press conference instead of first minister Mark Drakeford – who is himself isolating having tested positive for covid - economy minister Vaughan Gething provided the nation with the latest rule changes.

However, while he confirmed that the main omicron wave has passed, he also revealed that a sub variant of omicron, the BA.2 omicron variant, has been found in Wales.

The minister revealed that as of today - Friday, February 11 - 246 cases of this variant, which is said to be an even more transmissible form of omicron, have been identified across Wales.

And it is this particular sub variant which is thought to be the primary reason why Northern Ireland is currently seeing a much higher percentage of positive covid cases relative to its population size, than the other UK nations.

Fortunately, while more transmissible, it is thought that omicron is a less severe strain of covid than previous waves, and as such, Wales is continuing with plans to scrap many restrictions which are currently in place – albeit not as drastically as England are slashing their measures at this time.

What was said about the sub variant?

Mr Gething said: “Cases of this even more transmissible form of omicron have been identified in all parts of the UK, and to date, there have been 246 cases here in Wales.

“We will of course continue to keep a very close eye on this emerging development.

“The pandemic pressures on our hospitals remain constant.

“There are just under 1,100 covid-19 related patients in hospital (across Wales) at the moment.

“And there are 16 people with covid-19 in intensive care.

“Sickness and absence rates across the NHS have fallen from the peak last month but, workforce issues continue to have an impact on our health services, contributing to wider winter pressures.”

What are the latest rule changes coming into force?

From Friday, February 18, Covid passes will no longer be required to enter venues such as nightclubs, theatres and concert halls  in Wales – although individual venues and events can continue to ask for them if they wish.

What’s more, while face coverings will still be required for now, they will no longer be mandatory in indoor public places – apart from retail, public transport and health and care settings - from Monday, February 28.

From there, if the public health conditions continue to improve, the legal requirement to wear face coverings in all remaining settings could be lifted by the end of March.