NEW restrictions on alcohol sales and pub opening times in Wales in the lead-up to Christmas will ‘devastate’ the country's hospitality industry, it has been warned.

It comes after First Minister Mark Drakeford announced that pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes will be forced to stop selling alcohol and to shut by 6pm in a new round of coronavirus restrictions that begin on Friday night, December 4.

The Welsh Labour leader said the new rules were a "matter of deep regret", but that people meeting in hospitality settings was helping drive a resurgence of cases just three weeks after the country's firebreak lockdown ended.

Mr Drakeford told the Welsh Government's press briefing he acknowledged that the new restrictions would be "difficult" as they come at one of the busiest times of the year.

But organisations including the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), and the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) criticised the decision for threatening the futures of businesses.

Ian Price, CBI Wales director, said: "The First Minister's announcement is devastating for a Welsh hospitality sector that's already reeling from a damaging cycle of restrictions.

"Pubs, restaurants and shops that should be buzzing at this time of year now face a hugely uncertain future, with closures and job losses all but guaranteed.

"For those firms that have struggled on, the loss of the all-important festive trading period could very well be the last straw."

Nik Antona, national chairman of consumer group CAMRA, added: "Restrictions that force hundreds of pubs to close and devastate trade for those able to remain open to serve meals could be the final straw for Welsh pubs and the breweries that supply them.

"There is simply no evidence that a draconian alcohol ban will stop the spread of Covid-19. What is clear is that our pub culture is being used as a convenient scapegoat for the spread of the pandemic."

James Calder, chief executive of SIBA, commented: "The decision to ban the sale of alcohol in hospitality from Friday will be the final blow for small breweries and pubs in Wales who rely on the Christmas trading period for a substantial percentage of their annual income.

"There is no evidence to justify these new targeted restrictions."

For businesses affected by the new regulations, the Welsh Government will "provide the most generous package of financial assistance anywhere in the UK", Mr Drakeford told a press briefing.

Under the new rules, hospitality businesses will only be allowed to offer a takeaway service after 6pm, but a complete ban on alcohol sales will not extend to supermarkets or off-licences which must already stop selling alcoholic drinks after 10pm.

The new regulations that come into force from 6pm on December 4 will also see cinemas, bowling alleys and other indoor entertainment venues forced to shut their doors.

Other national measures, such as household bubbles, will remain the same after Friday, as well as how many people can meet in public indoors or outdoors.

Mr Drakeford did say that Welsh Government would make an announcement on Wednesday regarding travel rules between the two nations once England leaves its lockdown period on December 2.

The restrictions on hospitality will be formally reviewed by December 17 and then every three weeks.