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UK re-imposes face covering due to Omicron variant

November 28, 2021
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday announced that travel restrictions and face covering have become mandatory
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday announced that travel restrictions and face covering have become mandatory "to slow down the spread" of Omicron variant.

LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday announced that travel restrictions and face covering have become mandatory "to slow down the spread" of Omicron variant.

The new variant was first reported in South Africa on Wednesday, with early evidence suggesting it has a higher re-infection risk, Johnson pointed out. He made the comments at a Downing Street press conference after the British health authorities detected two Omicron infections.

"Our scientists are learning more hour by hour, and it does appear that Omicron spreads very rapidly and can be spread between people who are double vaccinated," BBC quoted him as saying.

"We need to slow down the spread of this variant here in the UK, because measures at the border can only ever minimize and delay the arrival of a new variant rather than stop it all together," he noted.

Face coverings will become mandatory again in shops and on public transport in England from next week under a raft of measures to target the new COVID variant, Omicron, the prime minister affirmed.

PCR tests for everyone entering the UK will be introduced and all contacts of new variant cases will have to self-isolate, even if fully jabbed, according to BBC report. Health Secretary Sajid Javid is due to set out further details of new COVID measures.

But Johnson said Christmas would be "considerably better" than in 2020. The measures, which include reinstating the travel red list with mandatory hotel quarantine for 10 countries, were "temporary and precautionary", Johnson said.

The prime minister said Javid would outline the tightening up of the mask rules. He did not indicate when the PCR testing requirements would begin, with the Department for Health saying only that it was among measures to be "introduced from next week".

The new restrictions come after it was confirmed that two Omicron cases had been detected in Brentwood, Essex, and Nottingham. Officials said the cases were linked and connected to travel in southern Africa.

In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, face coverings are already mandatory on public transport and many indoor areas.

Johnson said: "Our scientists are learning more hour by hour, and it does appear that Omicron spreads very rapidly and can be spread between people who are double vaccinated."

He added: "We need to slow down the spread of this variant here in the UK, because measures at the border can only ever minimize and delay the arrival of a new variant rather than stop it all together."

The prime minister said the new measures would be reviewed in three weeks, by which time they should have better information about the "continuing effectiveness" of vaccines.

Labour has called for improved sick pay to encourage self-isolation and for full implementation of Plan B for winter — the government's contingency plan, which includes mandatory COVID passports and encouraging people to work from home as well as compulsory face coverings.

The government's response is to test everyone coming in to the UK, isolate all Omicron contacts, ramp up boosting and bring back compulsory facemasks in some public places.

Asked by the BBC's Iain Watson if the prime minister could say with any confidence whether or not people could keep their Christmas plans this year, Johnson replied: "We continue to be in a strong position largely thanks to the speed of the vaccine rollout, another booster rollout, and... I'm pretty confident to absolutely confident this Christmas will be considerably better than last Christmas."

The UK's chief medical adviser, Prof Chris Whitty, said there was a "reasonable chance" that vaccines could be less effective against the new variant but stressed people who are vaccinated or receive the booster jab will be less likely to become seriously ill.

He said the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization would now need to decide whether to extend the booster vaccine down to adults age 18, and whether a second dose should be offered to children aged 12-15.

Carol Popplestone, chairwoman of the Royal College of Nursing, said face coverings were "something we have already called for and it should not have been a new variant that forced the prime minister to act". — Agencies


November 28, 2021
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