Cases of the Covid-19 Omicron variant have been identified in the UK and this weekend, Boris Johnson announced a list of emergency measures that will be implemented this week to try to stop the spread.
The number of confirmed Omicron cases in the UK is growing. The first two cases – in Nottingham and Essex – were announced on Saturday, while a third Omicron case was detected in the UK on Sunday in a person with travel links to southern Africa who visited Westminster before leaving the country. Three further cases of the Omicron variant have been identified in Scotland, the Scottish government announced on Monday, taking the total UK infections to 14.
Health secretary Sajid Javid told families they should plan for a “great” Christmas “as normal” and insisted it was “nowhere near” time to reintroduce social distancing rules and work-from-home guidance.
It is hoped the new measures will buy time for scientists to gain greater understanding of Omicron as ministers put the NHS on notice to deliver many more vaccines every day. Here’s a recap of the rules, advice and policies that are changing.
Mask wearing is back
While many of us have continued to wear masks in recent months (with research showing it’s the single biggest thing you can do to stop the spread of Covid), masks were technically no longer legally mandatory in England. However, that is about to change.
Masks will become compulsory again on public transport and in shops and pharmacies from Tuesday, unless you are medically exempt. You’ll also need to wear a mask when you’re popping in to pick up a takeaway and while at personal care settings, such as hairdressers and beauty salons. Banks, estate and letting agents, and post offices will also require you to mask up.
Teachers and pupils in Year 7 and above are also now being “strongly advised” to wear masks in communal areas outside classrooms in England.
Though the reintroduction of masks in England in shops and public transport will bring the nation back closer into line with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, face coverings are not being required in pubs and restaurants.
Travel has been tightened
From 4am on Tuesday fully-vaccinated people entering the UK will be required to self-isolate until they receive a negative result from a PCR test taken on the second day after they arrive. The tests must be bought from the private sector, typically costing around £55.
Previously fully-vaccinated travellers were only required to take a cheaper lateral flow test, and did not need to self-isolate unless they received a positive result.
People who are unvaccinated will continue to need one pre-departure test and two post-arrival PCR tests, and must quarantine for 10 days.
Currently, 10 African countries have been added to the UK’s red list since Friday.
Arrivals from those locations must stay in a quarantine hotel for 10 days at a cost of £2,285 for solo travellers.
Isolation rules are stricter
On top of the new isolation rules for those entering the UK from abroad, the isolation rules are changing if you’ve been identified as a contact of someone with the variant.
All contacts with a suspected case of Omicron will have to isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status, under the emergency measures. In recent months, those who are double vaxxed have been exempt from isolation.
More testing recommended
The government advice on preventing coronavirus now says people should take a lateral flow test before they enter “crowded indoor spaces” that day – including shopping centres.
Previously, the government stated that people should take two two lateral flow tests per week to help efforts in controlling the virus, but there was not advice on taking tests in specific situations.
Booster advice expected to change
Millions more people could now be offered booster jabs following a recommendation from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to expand the programme to all adults.
Booster jabs are currently only available to those with underlying health conditions and over 40s, six months after the second dose.
The new JCVI advice is that all over 18s should be eligible. The committee said the gap between the second jab and the third dose – otherwise known as the booster – should now be shortened to just three months.
The watchdog has called for children aged between 12 and 15 to get a second dose three months after their first too.
The government is yet to confirm it has accepted this advice, but an announcement is expected to be forthcoming.
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