Omicron variant: tighter rules on face masks in England and PCR tests for foreign travel announced

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

This article contains affiliate links. We may earn a small commission on items purchased through this article, but that does not affect our editorial judgement.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid has said that the new rules will come into force on Tuesday

The Government is bringing back mandatory face masks in shops and on public transport, and PCR tests for international travel, after three cases of the Omicron variant of Covid were identified in the UK.

There is mounting concern over the highly mutated variant, which originated in Southern Africa and is rapidly spreading around the world.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

At-a-glance: 5 key points

  • The Prime Minister has announced that all international arrivals will have to take a PCR test by the end of their second day in the UK, and has ordered the return of mandatory mask-wearing in shops and on public transport.
  • Boris Johnson said the “temporary and precautionary” measures will be reviewed in three weeks, while the Government’s vaccine experts will be tasked with considering whether to extend booster jabs to all over-18s.
  • Health Secretary Sajid Javid told Sky’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday that new mask wearing rules for shops and public transport in England should come into force on Tuesday.
  • It comes after three cases of Omicron were identified in London, Nottingham and Brentwood, Essex, with all linked to travel to southern Africa.
  • Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which have maintained mandatory mask-wearing in public places, said they intend to mirror the border restrictions.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a press conference after cases of the new Covid-19 variant were confirmed in the United Kingdom on November 27, 2021Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a press conference after cases of the new Covid-19 variant were confirmed in the United Kingdom on November 27, 2021
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a press conference after cases of the new Covid-19 variant were confirmed in the United Kingdom on November 27, 2021 | Getty Images

More nations added to red list

The individuals and their households were ordered into self-isolation and targeted testing is being carried out in areas where they are thought to have been infectious.

A third case was confirmed on Sunday, the case relates to a South African person who visited Westminster in London but has since left the UK.

To further slow the arrival of cases, ministers said Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola will face travel restrictions from Sunday, when they will join South Africa and five other neighbouring nations on UK red lists.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

When will the rules on travel come into force?

According to a message on the passenger locator form section of the Government’s website, testing and isolation requirements will change for people travelling into the UK from 4am on Tuesday.

The message says: “After 04:00 Tuesday 30 November 2021 lateral flow tests will no longer be accepted and all travellers arriving into UK will be required to book and take Covid-19 PCR tests.”

What did Sajid Javid say?

The Health Secretary has said he is expecting to get advice on broadening the booster programme from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation “imminently”.

Speaking to Trevor Phillips On Sunday on Sky News, Sajid Javid said vaccines are now more important “than it was before”.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He said: “We know that vaccines work. Yes, this new variant may make it less effective or not. But the vaccines work, they are our first form of defence and that is why I have also asked our expert advisers on vaccines called JCVI to give me very quick advice on broadening boosting our booster programme.

“I expect to get that advice imminently. This is all about acting swiftly in a proportionate and balanced way to protect the progress that we have made.”

The Health Secretary has said he hopes extra measures will be “temporary”, adding he thinks people will “take this more seriously”.

He said: “Doing it in this proportionate way where it’s for public transport, it’s for retail outlets, I think is the right level of response on masks.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“It will be via Government regulation and that means, I think, that people will take it seriously.”

Asked whether people will follow the rules on masks, Mr Javid said following the news of a new variant: “I do think people will take this more seriously.”

Mr Javid added: “It’s important, I think, to act in a proportionate way and also in a temporary way.

“I hope this is something that we can remove within weeks. But I do think in terms of making progress, we want life to go back towards normal, but at this point in time, given what we know about this variant, and the expert advice that has been received, I think it is right to take some proportionate and balanced action.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

What did Boris Johnson say?

The Prime Minister said he is “confident” this Christmas “will be considerably better than the last”, which was largely cancelled for millions of people, but he refused to say whether further restrictions could be imposed.

He said: “I very much hope that we will find that we continue to be in a strong position and we can lift these measures again, but right now this is the responsible course of action to slow down the seeding and the spread of this new variant and to maximise our defences so that we protect the gains we’ve worked for so hard.”

While the effectiveness of vaccines against Omicron is currently unclear, the Prime Minister said there are “good reasons for believing they will provide at least some measure of protection”.

He stopped short of bringing back the work-from-home guidance or extending the use of vaccine passports.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said the country needs to “face up” to the possibility the variant will be a “major issue” if it turns out to be highly-transmissible and evades immunity.

He said that the existing booster programme is the current priority, but that vaccine manufacturers believe they can tweak their existing jabs to better counter Omicron “in about 100 days”.

A message from the editor:

Thank you for reading. NationalWorld is a new national news brand, produced by a team of journalists, editors, video producers and designers who live and work across the UK. Find out more about who’s who in the team, and our editorial values. We want to start a community among our readers, so please follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and keep the conversation going. You can also sign up to our email newsletters and get a curated selection of our best reads to your inbox every day.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.