Wales has recorded its highest amount of coronavirus deaths in a single day since April, with 37 in the previous 24 hours.
The figure comes as Public Health Wales registered 1,414 positive virus tests for the same period – the highest number has recorded during the pandemic – although the true number is likely to be higher.
The number of deaths was the highest recorded in Wales since 38 were reported on April 15 during the first wave of the pandemic.
Following the announcement, First Minister Mark Drakeford said he was “deeply saddened” by the figures.
“I am deeply saddened the number of coronavirus deaths in Wales reported over the past 24 hours is 37 – the highest number in more than six months,” Mr Drakeford tweeted.
“My thoughts are with the families and friends who are mourning the loss of a loved one.”
Public Health Wales provides daily figures for the number of deaths reported to it in the previous 24 hours, which does not necessarily mean the deaths actually occurred during that time.
The Welsh Government’s counsel general, Jeremy Miles, said Wednesday’s steep rise in deaths – compared with seven on Tuesday – “tells us is that a firebreak is absolutely essential”.
He added: “And it tells us a deep firebreak of the sort the Welsh Government is asking people in Wales to observe is the right response in order to protect people’s lives and to protect the NHS in its capacity to keep us all alive.”
Welsh Government figures show the seven-day incident rate for the country is 200 cases per 100,000 people.
Merthyr Tydfil – which has the highest rate in Wales – registered 402.8 cases per 100,000.
The 17-day lockdown in Wales, which encourages people to work from home, bans people from meeting others they do not live with, and forces the closure of all non-essential businesses, would “break the cycle of transmission and bring the virus under control”, Mr Miles said.
But he offered a positive glimpse of life in Wales when the lockdown is due to expire after November 9, saying shops, bars, restaurants, gyms and places of worship would all be allowed to reopen and people allowed to return to work.
However, Welsh ministers were involved in discussions about whether contact with people and travel would be restricted as part of new national measures expected to come into force after the firebreak, he said.
Mr Miles added that the First Minister would announce a “clearer picture of what lies ahead” in the “coming days”.
“It’s important that as those ideas are being discussed that we’re also able to speak to our stakeholders and other partners in different aspects of government and other sectors in Wales, so that we can discuss whether those ideas are the right ideas for Wales, and that process is under way at the moment.”
But Mr Miles said the impact of the current lockdown on transmissions was not likely to be felt until “two or three weeks after the end of the firebreak”.
He also acknowledged criticism of the lockdown, including its ban on supermarkets selling non-essential items, and appealed to the public to “weather some short-term pain over this two-week period for us to have a maximum possible long-term gain”.
Asked whose responsibility it was to enforce the shopping ban, Mr Miles said it was the “responsibility of the individual” not to buy non-essential items, while it was “the responsibility of the retailer not to sell” the items.
And despite the Welsh Government announcing guidance on Tuesday to allow a “workable solution for retailers and customers” to sell discretionary non-essential items to customers if needed, Mr Miles said ministers were still working out a “mechanism” for how such a system would work in practice.
The Welsh Conservative’s group leader, Paul Davies, said the updated guidance was unfair and described the shopping ban as “an absolute mess”.
He said: “I think it’s created even more confusion, the guidance we’ve seen in the last 24 hours, because now the Welsh Government is saying people can actually go into a shop and, in exceptional circumstances, buy non-essential items.
“What does exceptional circumstances mean? I don’t think it’s fair on staff as well because the onus now will be on workers, retail staff, to actually make this decision.
“Also it’s not fair on customers either because customers might have to share some private information with people they don’t know in order to persuade retail staff.
“This is an absolute mess, I’m afraid.”