Last night, compulsory mask-wearing was resumed in an attempt to save Christmas Day from a super-mutant Coronavirus.
Boris Johnson ordered the move following at least two Omicron variants that were rapidly spreading in the UK.
He also advised people to get booster shots, saying: “It’s more vital than ever.”
From tomorrow, mask-wearing in England will be required in all shops, buses and trains as well as taxis.
After the detection of the super-strain in Britain, the rules for overseas travel and self-isolation have been tightened.
Scientists will investigate how to extend the booster program, even to children as young as 18-years-old.
Omicron — discovered only days ago in southern Africa — has been declared the worst variant yet by one expert, while there are fears it might reduce vaccine protection over time.
The PM’s measures, outlined at a Downing Street briefing, aim to slow down its spread until scientists know just how dangerous it is.
Johnson, however, did not force a shutdown of restaurants and bars in the days leading up to Christmas.
He also said that if people follow the rules and get their jabs there will be no need for a last-gasp holiday lockdown.
The PM declared “I’m absolutely confident this Christmas will be considerably better than the last.”
The new restrictions that can be put in place without a Commons vote include:
- TEN days’ enforced self-isolation for all contacts of those who test positive — whether or not they have been double-jabbed, and;
- ALLUK residents must submit to a PCR test within 48-hours and then self-isolate until a negative results.
Scientists will have time to study the variant over three weeks while they set up the measures.
The situation will be reassessed on December 18 — almost a year to the day that the PM announced a last-minute ban on Christmas family get-togethers.
Despite these assurances, the mere thought of fresh Covid curbs is enough to send shockwaves through an industry that saw its takings drop by nearly 80% during the festive season last year.
Johnson did not give any guarantees. However, he said that there would not be a lockdown like last year and that no one was being asked to work from their homes.
He announced that he plans to accelerate the pace of his jabs programme.
He asked the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to reduce the time it takes to receive a booster vaccine, which is currently at six months. It should be reduced to five months.
He also asked experts to look into the possibility that a third shot could be extended to 18- to 39-year olds.
Chris Whitty, chief medical officer, said that the JCVI would need to decide whether the booster vaccine should be extended to individuals over 18.
They will now examine the possibility of offering 12-15-year-olds their second dose.
Prof Whitty said the following: “It’s pretty clear if we are vaccinated, and in particular get the booster, we will be in a stronger overall position.”
Mr Johnson also stressed it was more vital than ever to get your jabs — and a booster when it is your turn. He said: “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.
“And if you are 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. So from today we’re going to boost the booster campaign.”
Johnson stressed that Mr Johnson’s action on borders, masks, and isolation was preventive in advance of the December 18, review.
He added: “At that point we should have much greater information about the continuing effectiveness of vaccines.
“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 this new variant, and to maximise our defences, so we protect the gains we have worked so hard for and so that we can continue to save lives.”
Professor Sir Andrew Pollard of the Oxford Vaccine Group said that there is no evidence to suggest Omicron causes more severe illness.
He stressed: “We don’t yet know about its propensity to spread, particularly in a highly vaccinated population, and we don’t think it will lead to a sudden rise in severe disease because the characteristics are so similar to the previous variants.”
Yesterday, four more African countries were included in the red travel list. This brings the total to ten today.
Within hours, two cases of the new variant were found in Britain and the swift action was taken.
After one person was confirmed to have been infected in Brentwood and Essex and another in Nottingham, the infected persons and their household members were instructed to go into self-isolation.
Sajid Javid, Health Secretary, warned of grave consequences “This is a real reminder that this pandemic is far from over.”
To confirm that the cases were linked, scientists used genomic sequencing. This involved travel to one country where the variant is common.
Johnson, however, insisted: “We are not going to stop people travelling, I want to stress that.”
Angola Mozambique Malawi Zambia and Zambia were the four countries that were added to red list.
They are now part of South Africa, Botswana and Lesotho.
Yesterday there were 39,567 cases and 131 deaths recorded in the UK — down from 50,091 cases and 160 deaths on Friday.