Boris Johnson has announced new measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus, including mandatory masks in shops and PCR tests for travelers entering England, after two cases of the Omicron variant were detected in the country.
Amid rising global concern over Omicron by the World Health Organization on Friday, the prime minister set out a series of steps the UK is taking to maximize its defense against COVID-19.
Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, Johnson said anyone arriving in England would be asked to take a PCR test for Covid-19 on the second day and that they would be asked to take a negative test unless they provided a negative test. Will have to self-isolate. He said the rules for face coverings in shops and on public transport in England would also be tightened.
Contacts of all confirmed cases of people infected with the Omicron variant in England must self-isolate for 10 days. He said health officials are also looking into expanding access to the booster vaccine program.
The measures will be reviewed in three weeks.
Devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales confirmed on Saturday evening they would apply the same measures to international travel announced by Johnson.
A spokesman for the Welsh Government said: “We have repeatedly raised our concerns with the UK Government regarding its decision to relax international travel rules quickly, precisely because of the risk of introducing new forms of travel into the UK. We also warned against removing the PCR test for returning passengers.
Omicron is potentially more contagious than previous variants, although experts do not yet know whether it will cause more severe disease. Johnson warned it could reduce the effectiveness of the vaccines, as he announced a tightening of rules for England after two cases were identified in Nottingham and Brentwood in Essex.
In an effort to slow the spread, Johnson announced an expansion of the vaccine booster campaign as well as a review of “temporary and precautionary” measures over three weeks.
Johnson said he is confident this Christmas will be “much better than last Christmas”.
Asked about the possibility of this year’s celebration, the Prime Minister said: “We remain in a strong position, mainly the pace of the vaccine rollout, thanks to another booster rollout and I think I will be able to formulate Going to stay with. I’ve used before, which I’m sure will be much better this Christmas than last Christmas.”
The announced measures fall short of the government’s Plan B, which includes advice on work from home and the use of vaccine passports.
However, the UK may need to “face up to” the possibility of further action if the Omicron variant is too permeable, said the UK’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance.
He said: “I think we’ll get more information about transmission, we’ll get more information about the ability of vaccines to protect against the virus, but that’s going to take a while.
“At the moment, the models are more ‘if it spreads very fast, of course it is going to spread very fast and will go to a lot of places, and if it spreads less rapidly then it is going to do so little.
“But if it’s very permeable and causes a major exodus, that’s clearly a major issue we’ll have to face. But that’s not what we know at the moment, we need to get that information.”
Professor Chris Whitty said at the press conference that it was “inevitable” that the Omicron version would spread around the world over the next few days.
England’s chief medical officer said that although it is clear that Omicron is highly permeable, it is not yet known how effective the vaccine will be as protection against it – but added that people who have been vaccinated or received a booster jab do, they will be less likely to become seriously ill. ,
Earlier on Saturday, Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced that the UK was adding four more southern African countries to the travel red list after two cases of the new variant were detected in Nottingham and Brentwood, Essex.
The UK’s Health Protection Agency confirmed the cases, which are believed to be linked to travel to and from southern Africa, after overnight genomic sequencing.
Individuals and their families were ordered to self-isolate and targeted testing was being conducted in areas where they were believed to be contagious.
Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola will face travel restrictions from Sunday.
“This is a real reminder that this pandemic is not over,” Javid said as he urged people to get their vaccines, including boosters. “We were concerned from the time we first identified this new variant,” he said.
He said anyone who has traveled to countries now on the Red List in the last 10 days, including South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia, should self-isolate and undergo PCR tests .
The UK is the second European country to report an Omicron presence after Belgium identified a case on Friday.
Authorities in the Netherlands said 61 people who arrived on two flights from South Africa on Friday tested positive for Covid-19. Further tests are underway to determine whether any of them had the Omicron variant.
It was unclear when the two individuals in the UK were infected, or had their full travel history, as countries scramble to close their borders to southern Africa.
Ministers said non-UK and non-Irish residents who have lived in Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola in the past 10 days will be denied entry into England from 4am on Sunday.
Those who have been allowed to return will be ordered to self-isolate at a government-approved facility for 10 days.
Several pharmaceutical firms have said they are working to adapt their vaccines in light of the emergence of Omicron, after the WHO warned that preliminary evidence suggests the variant has an increased risk of reinfection. and can spread faster than other strains.
Commenting on the detection of two cases of the Omicron COVID variant in the UK, Professor of Experimental Medicine at Imperial College London, Peter Openshaw, said: “There is no need to panic, but we do need to be prepared and act swiftly. ,
“It is better to act fast but be prepared to change as new information arrives. Travel restrictions can slow the rate of development and establish important facts about severity, immune evasion, transmission and susceptibility to treatment and prevention.” can buy time for.”
Openshaw said: “With or without this new version, Delta is already a crisis in many parts of Europe and is still causing a lot of disease and death in the UK, especially among those not vaccinated. or who do not respond to vaccines.”