Covid: face mask rules ‘to stay until new year’ in bid to stop tougher restrictions ahead of Christmas

Emergency laws have been introduced in an attempt to slow the spread of the Omicron variant

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Face mask rules are to remain in place until the new year as the government attempts to avoid tougher restrictions in the lead up to Christmas.

Emergency laws were brought in last week until 21 December in an attempt to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.

However, it is thought laws regarding wearing face masks on public transport and shops will be in place longer, at least until 11 January.

What restrictions are in place?

Ministers set a three-week deadline to review the rules brought in last week, giving scientists more time to analyse the Omicron virus.

Travel regulations have also changed and are expected to be extended. These changes include pre-departure tests and a compulsory 10 day quarantine for anyone in close contact with an Omricon case.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is hoping to avert the need for stricter restrictions, reassuring people that Christmas is still on.

He has resisted implementing "plan B" which sees people working from home and the widespread use of vaccine passports.

What has been said on ‘Plan B’

A Whitehall source told the MailOnline: “In terms of Plan B, we are not there yet. The ambition is that people can have a much more normal Christmas than last year.

“That depends on what the data shows about the new variant. But certainly, the hope is that things stay as they are in the next couple of weeks.”

Professor Paul Hunter, from the school of medicine at the University of East Anglia said there is concern Omricon "is spreading more quickly than the Delta variant".

He added: “How it’s likely to spread in the UK still uncertain, but I think the early signs are that it will probably spread quite quickly and probably start outcompeting Delta and become the dominant variant probably within the next weeks or a month or so at least.

“The big remaining question is actually how harmful it is if you do get Covid with this Omicron variant, and that’s the question that we’re struggling to answer at the moment.”

Why Christmas shouldn’t be ‘under threat’

However, when asked about Christmas, he said: “The thing about Christmas Day itself is that when we meet with our families, we actually interact with fewer people over the Christmas break than we do in our normal working week.

“Often respiratory viruses like Covid spread less rapidly through society while we’re on our Christmas break than they do at other times… So personally, I don’t think the primary focus of the Christmas break where you meet with your family on Christmas Day, Boxing Day is under threat.

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