Face masks back in shops and on public transport as UK battles ‘worst ever Covid’

Boris Johnson announced face covering rules in shops and on public transport would be “tightened up” as the UK faces the “worst ever” variant of Covid-19.

It comes after the first cases of the Omicron variant were identified in the UK.

The PM warned the new variant, seen for the first time on Tuesday in southern Africa, spreads more easily, and could be more resistant to vaccinations – even spreading betwen two double vaccinated people.

The Prime Minister opened a Number 10 press conference by saying: “Apologies for disturbing your Saturday.”

He said face covering rules in shops and on public transport would be “tightened up”.

He later clarified this would mean “you have to wear them” in retail settings or on public transport, but that Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, would give more detail “in the course of the next day or so.”

The official Number 10 Twitter account then clarified this would not include hospitality settings like pubs and restaurants.

And people who have been in contact with people suspected of having the Omicron variant will have to self-isolate for ten days, regardless of their vaccine status.

He also announced all arrivals in the UK would have to take a PCR test by day two after entering the country, and isolate until their results are in.

“We’re not going to stop people travelling, I want to stress that, we’re not going to stop people travelling, but we will require anyone who enters the UK to take a PCR test by the end of the second day after their arrival and to self-isolate until they have a negative result,” he said.

He announced the changes at a Downing Street press conference


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“Second, we need to slow down the spread of this variant here in the UK, because measures at the border can only ever minimise and delay the arrival of a new variant rather than stop it all together.

“We will require all contacts of those who test positive with a suspected case of Omicron to self-isolate for 10 days regardless of your vaccination status.

“We will also go further in asking all of you to help contain the spread of this variant by tightening up the rules on face coverings in shops and on public transport.”

And he said the government would “boost the booster campaign”, in a bid to fight the variant.

He said: “We don’t yet exactly know how effective our vaccines will be against Omicron but we have good reasons for believing they will provide at least some measure of protection.

“If you’re boosted, your response is likely to be stronger so it’s more vital than ever that people get their jabs and we get those boosters into arms as fast as possible.”

The PM pledged to “boost the booster campaign”


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He added: “From today we’re going to boost the booster campaign, we’re already planning to do six million jabs in England alone over the next three weeks and now we’re looking to go further.

“The Health Secretary has asked the JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) to consider giving boosters to as wide a group as possible as well as reducing the gap between your second dose and your booster.”

The Prime Minister said all of the changes would be “temporary and precautionary”, and would be reviewed in three weeks time.

Asked if the new variant would impact on people’s Christmas plans, the Prime Minister said: “I’m absolutely confident that this Christmas will be significantly better than last Christmas.”

But Chief Scientific Advisor Sir Patrick Vallance wanred the UK may need to “face up” to the possibility of further action if the Omicron variant is very transmissible.

He said: “I think we’ll get more information on transmissibility, we’ll get more information on the ability of the vaccines to protect against the virus, but that’s going to take a little bit of time.

“At the moment, the models are more ‘if it spreads very fast, of course it’s going to spread very fast and go into a lot of places, and if it spreads less fast it’s going to do so less’.

“But if it’s very transmissible and does cause big escape, then clearly that’s a major issue we have to face up to.

“But that isn’t what we know at the moment, we need to get that information.”

The Government said as of 9am on Saturday, there had been a further 39,567 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK.

The Government also said a further 131 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Saturday, bringing the UK total to 144,724.

Separate figures published by the Office for National Statistics show there have been 169,000 deaths registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

Earlier, Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced that from 4am on Sunday 28 November, non-UK and Irish residents who have been in Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola in the previous 10 days will be refused entry into England.

They join the six countries added to the list on Thursday night – South Africa, Botswana, Lesostho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) confirmed today that two cases of COVID-19 with mutations consistent with variant B.1.1.529 – known as the Omicron variant – have been identified in the UK.

The Government said patients that have tested positive and all members of their households are being re-tested and told to self-isolate while further testing and contact tracing is underway.

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty


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One case has been located in Chelmsford and the other in Nottingham. The two cases are linked and there is a link to travel to Southern Africa.

UKHSA is carrying out targeted testing at locations where the positive cases were likely to have been infectious.

Mr Javid said: “Thanks to our world class genomic sequencing we have been made aware of two UK cases of the Omicron variant. We have moved rapidly and the individuals are self-isolating while contact tracing is ongoing.

“We will do all we can to protect the UK public against this emerging threat and that is why we are surging testing capacity to the impacted communities and introducing travel restrictions on a further four countries: Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola. We will not hesitate to take further action if required.

“This is a stark reminder that we are not yet out of this pandemic. Getting the vaccine has never been more important – please come forward for your first jab if you haven’t already and if eligible, book your booster as soon as possible.”

Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said: “We will continue to work closely with the international community to quickly gather and analyse information on this variant to understand any possible increase in transmissibility or resistance to vaccines.

“It is important that everyone takes sensible precautions – get a PCR test if you have symptoms, isolate when asked, wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces, ventilate rooms, get your vaccine and boosters as soon as you can.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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