Face Coverings Return And Booster Programme Sped Up In Response To Omicron Variant, PM Says
Boris Johnson has announced a range of new coronavirus measures to "buy time for our scientists to understand exactly what we're dealing with" after the first Omicron variant cases were identified in the UK.
Speaking from Downing Street, the Prime Minister said that rules on face coverings will be “tightened up” to curb the spread of the virus, including making them compulsory in shops and on public transport.
He added that rollout of booster vaccinations would be sped up to "bolster our protections against this new variant".
The JCVI have reportedly been asked to review the current rules around boosters including reducing the gap between the second and third jabs set to be reduced from the current six months.
"We don't yet exactly know how effective our vaccines will be against Omicron but we have good reasons for believing they will provide at least some measure of protection," Johnson said.
"And if you're boosted your response is likely to be stronger. So, it's more vital than ever that people get their jabs and we get those boosters into arms as fast as possible."
Johnson stressed that no new limits would be brought in on international travel, but confirmed that all international arrivals into the UK would now have to take a PCR coronavirus test within two days of their arrival and isolate until they received a negative result.
Those who were confirmed contacts of the Omicron variant would also be required to self-isolate for 10 days regardless of their vaccination status.
"I very much hope that we will find that we continue to be in a strong position and we can lift these measures again," the PM said.
"But right now this is the responsible course of action to slow down the seeding in the spread of this new variant and to maximise our defences.
"So that we protect the gains we've worked for so hard and so that we can continue to save lives."
Johnson added current measures are set to be reviewed in three weeks' time, but failed to confirm whether stricter rules could be brought in.
Asked about the prospect of further measures, he said: "I'm absolutely confident that this Christmas will be significantly better than last Christmas."
Johnson’s announcement came just hours after the health secretary confirmed that two people in the UK have been found to be infected with Omicron variant of coronavirus, which was first identified in South Africa.
Cases had been identified in Brentwood, Essex, and Nottingham via genomic sequencing and were linked to travel to southern Africa, Sajid Javid said.
“Thanks to our world class genomic sequencing we have been made aware of two UK cases of the Omicron variant. We have moved rapidly and the individuals are self-isolating while contact tracing is ongoing,” he added.
On Friday, the UK placed South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini on the Red List in a bid to halt spread of the new strain.
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe