Face masks will be required in shops and on public transportation in England beginning Tuesday in response to the new Omicron variant, according to the health secretary.
Sajid Javid stated that PCR tests for all foreign arrivals would be required “as soon as possible” after the four nations agreed.
He stated that the measures would help to ensure that “we can all continue to enjoy Christmas with our families.”
Mr. Javid went on to say that he had acted “quickly” and “properly.”
The government has refrained from extending vaccine passports in England or issuing work-from-home advice as part of its Plan B – a backup plan in case intervention on Covid is required to protect the NHS.
Mr. Javid said that the face mask rules would go into effect on Tuesday, but that he hoped all of the new measures would be lifted “within weeks.”
“The reason we set out these measures yesterday is to protect the progress we’ve made so we can all continue to enjoy Christmas with our families,” he said.
He stated that the government would take additional “swift action in a proportionate manner wherever necessary,” but he did not believe that working from home guidance was required.
While he stated that the reintroduction of PCR tests for travelers was awaiting approval from the four nations, the government website stated that it would be required as of 04:00 GMT on Tuesday.
The health secretary also stated that he expects the government’s vaccine advisers to make recommendations on changes to the booster program “immediately.” “I’d like to make an even broader offer of vaccines, particularly boosters,” he explained.
The prime minister described the new measures as temporary and precautionary at a Downing Street news conference on Saturday and said they would be reviewed in three weeks, just before most schools break up for the Christmas holidays.
To encourage self-isolation, Labour has called for the full implementation of Plan B as well as increased sick pay.
Boris Johnson announced the restrictions after two Omicron cases were confirmed in Brentwood, Essex, and Nottingham. Officials said the cases were linked to travel in southern Africa, where the new variant was discovered.
“We need to slow down the spread of this variant here in the UK,” Mr. Johnson said, “because border measures can only ever minimise and delay the arrival of a new variant rather than stop it entirely.”
The government’s response is to test everyone entering the country, isolate all Omicron contacts, increase boosting, and reinstate mandatory face masks in some public places.
To be clear, this will not prevent more Omicron cases from arriving or circulating. It’s already here. If a virus is capable of spreading, it will eventually get through.
It has the potential to spread here as well. Cases of Covid have been increasing, with the exception of a lull during the October half-term.
They are averaging over 40,000 per day, and the R number is just above the critical one. If Omicron can combine faster transmission with the ability to evade immunity, it, too, has the potential to spread.
The only thing the measures can do is buy time, but for what? Boosters and science.