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Sajid Javid Confirms Masks Will Be A "Legal Requirement" In Shops And On Public Transport

Masks will be legally compulsory in shops in England again from Tuesday, Sajid Javid has confirmed (Alamy)

4 min read

Compulsory mask-wearing will return in shops and on all public transport in England from Tuesday to try and prevent the spread of the new Omicron variant of Covid-19, Sajid Javid has confirmed.

The health secretary said it will become a “legal requirement by government regulation” to wear a face covering after two cases of the mutation were discovered in the UK.

It is believed to be more transmissible than previous variants, and could potentially be more resistant to vaccines, but is not yet known whether it is more likely to lead to serious illness and death.

Last night Boris Johnson told a press conference the new restrictions were needed to protect the country from another wave of the virus this winter, though pubs and restaurants will still be exempt from compulsory mask-wearing.

On Sunday, Javid told the BBC's Andrew Marr he believed the new mask rules were “an appropriate response” from a “spectrum of measures" the government could take to curb the spread of Omicron. 

Johnson had initially described the reintroduction of masks as a "tightening up" of rules on face coverings, which Javid this morning confirmed would be "a legal requirement by government regulation".

Following months of ambiguous messaging from government on face coverings, which has leaned heavily on people being asked to use their "common sense", there has been concern the new rules will be met with resistance.

But on Sunday Javid said he was confident once people understand the seriousness of this new variant “people will take this more seriously”.

The partial return to compulsory mask wearing stops short of moving to the government's "Plan B" Covid restrictions, which also include a recommendation to work from home where possible, and the use of vaccine certification in the hospitality industry. 

But Javid said on Sunday he believes "we're nowhere near" moving to stricter measures in England. 

"We know now those types of measures do carry a very heavy price, both economically, socially, in terms of non-Covid health outcomes such as impact on mental health,” he told Sky News. 

"If one was to make decisions like that they would have to be done very, very carefully and we're not there yet, we're nowhere near that."

On Saturday the Prime Minster also announced PCR tests would be required for all overseas arrivals to the UK. An overnight update to the passenger locator form required to enter the UK suggests this change will come into effect from 4am on Tuesday. 

Ten countries have been added to the travel red list meaning people arriving from those countries will need to quarantine for 10 days in a government-approved hotel from 4am today.

Anyone who comes into contact with someone who tests positive for Omicron will need to self-isolate at home for 10 days, even if they are fully vaccinated.

After two cases of the new Omicron strain were identified in Nottingham and Essex yesterday, fears have grown of a return to more serious coronavirus measures this winter.

Speaking to Sky's Trevor Phillips on Sunday programme, Javid said it would be "irresponsible" to rule out heightened restrictions this winter, but insisted people should "continue with their plans as normal for Christmas".

“I think it's going to be a great Christmas," he added.

Cases of the Omicron variant have also been identified in several other European countries, and the chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said it is "inevitable" it will spread across the world.

Appearing alongside him at yesterday’s Downing Street news conference, the UK's chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, warned the country may need to "face up" to the possibility of further action if Omicron proves to be very transmissible.

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