As the first cases of the Omicron variant of coronavirus are confirmed in Britain, the UK Government has quickly announced new measures to combat its spread. At a Downing Street press conference last Saturday (November 27), Prime Minister Boris Johnson shared the news that face masks and face coverings will once again be mandatory on public transport and in shops, with enforcement to begin from tomorrow (November 30). For now, masks won’t be compulsory in hospitality settings.
Wearing face coverings has been a personal choice in England for many weeks now, as the government ceded the choice back to the people. However, with the arrival of the Omicron variant – which scientists fear could be more transmissible and more resistant to vaccines than other strains – the government has been forced into a rethink. Whilst promising that the Health Secretary Sajid Javid would provide more clarity in an upcoming press conference, the Prime Minister’s Twitter account revealed the new rules around mask-wearing. Thus far, nine cases of the Omicron variant have been detected in the UK (three in England, six in Scotland).
Meanwhile, further measures will be taking place at UK borders, with all travellers entering the country now required to take a PCR test and isolate until they receive a negative result. Similarly, Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe have all been added to the UK’s red list, advising us not to travel there. (View the red travel list in full here).
Though this marks the return of coronavirus restrictions, government scientific advisers have expressed hope that the Covid vaccines, plus the recent booster jab programme, will help mitigate the worst effects of the Omicron Variant, which is known as B.1.1.529. Still, with cases on the rise and Christmas around the corner, it’s time for us all to mask up once again.
There is also likely to be an acceleration to the UK’s Booster Vaccination programme in a bid to help stop the spread. Until now, over-40s and the clinically vulnerable had been asked to come forward for a third jab, but now it is thought that every adult in the UK could be invited to receive a booster within weeks. A decision has come from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to introduce these emergency measures, pending approval. This could also see the time between second jabs and boosters cut in order to fully-vaccinate the adult population sooner. As of now, six months is left in between the second and third jabs.
Other than the tightening of mask rules and the likely acceleration of the booster programme, the UK will not impose any new social distancing measures right now. Health Secretary Sajid Javid has urged people to keep their festive plans as “normal” and insisted Christmas will be “great” this year. He also added that he hoped the new mask measures would be “temporary”.
This is a developing story, and Secret Birmingham will be sure to provide further update if/when they are announced.