As two cases of the heavily mutated variant – feared to potentially be more transmissible and evasive of vaccines – were discovered in the UK on Saturday, and four more countries were added to the travel red list, Boris Johnson held a press conference at Downing Street.
The prime minister announced a range of new “temporary and precautionary” restrictions in England, including the return of mandatory mask wearing in shops and on public transport, and self-isolation for contacts of cases and for all international arrivals until they receive a negative PCR test result.
But the following morning, it still remained unclear exactly when these measures would come into force, amid sparse detail on how the travel isolation requirement would be implemented.
The health secretary is expected to outline the policies in more detail during broadcast interviews on Sunday morning in appearances on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show and Sky News’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday programme.
MPs will be given a subsequent vote on the new measures, which Mr Johnson said would be reviewed in three weeks’ time – the week before Christmas.
Mr Javid, who in his first significant comments as health secretary vowed there would be “no going back” into lockdowns shortly before he axed nearly all Covid measures in England, had struck a somewhat starker tone in the Commons on Friday as he warned that the variant discovered by scientists in southern Africa was of “huge international concern”, telling MPs: “We must move quickly.”
And he told the BBC on Saturday: “This is a real reminder to us all that this pandemic is far from over.
“If there’s one thing that everyone can be doing right now is, if they’re eligible, please take your vaccine when it’s your first shot, your second shot, or your booster jab. If you’re eligible, please take a vaccine.”
He added: “We know this is new out there. We don’t know enough about it yet. But for what we do know that we know that the protections that we have, especially the vaccines are hugely important.”
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