Mask-wearing back for shops and transport, PM announces
Health Secretary Sajid Javid is expected to outline how and when new Covid measures will come into force after the first cases of the new Omicron variant were detected in the UK.
Face coverings are to be made mandatory in shops and on public transport in England, Boris Johnson announced on Saturday, amid “temporary and precautionary” measures to combat the variant.
It comes after the first two cases – which are “linked” and have been connected to travel to southern Africa – were located in England late on Friday.
Addressing the nation at a Downing Street press conference, the prime minister also revealed all arrivals into the UK will be required to take a PCR test and isolate at home until a negative Covid result has been confirmed. A review into all these new rules will be conducted in three weeks, he added.
The measures have been criticised as “Plan B Lite” by scientists who believe they do not go far enough to tackle the “extremely transmissible” variant.
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Sajid Javid is due to outline new coronavirus measures in more detail after the UK detected its first two cases of the new Omicron variant.
The health secretary is expected to expand on the prime minister’s announcement when he appears on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show later this morning.
Watch: Omicron variant ‘unlikely’ to trigger new wave in UK, prof says
Omicron variant ‘extremely unlikely’ to trigger new pandemic wave in UK, says Andrew Pollard
Spain bans non-vaccinated Britons as Israel shuts borders to all visitors
Following my earlier post (11pm), here’s our deputy news editor Alastair Jamieson with more on the countries tightening their borders.
Only fully-vaccinated British tourists will be admitted to Spain from Wednesday as countries around the world tighten border restrictions amid concern at the new Omicron coronavirus variant.
Until now, Britons could enter Spain by showing a negative PCR test result taken up to 72 hours before arriving, but from 1 December they will also need proof of a Covid-19 vaccination.
The variant, which has also been detected in Belgium, Botswana, Hong Kong, Italy, Germany and Britain, has sparked global concern and a wave of travel curbs, although epidemiologists say such restrictions may be too late to stop Omicron from circulating globally.
It came as Switzerland imposed a 10-day quarantine on travellers arriving from Britain, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Egypt and Malawi.
Brits will need proof of a Covid-19 vaccination to visit Spain from Wednesday
Brazil imposes further travel restrictions
Over to Brazil now, where health regulator Anvisa has recommended that already-imposed travel restrictions related to the Omicron variant should be widened to include Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia.
The recommendation comes a day after Brazil shut its borders to travellers arriving from South Africa, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.
Anvisa’s recommendation will need to be implemented by the government, as the regulator does not have the authority to enforce such travel restrictions.
Everything we know about the new Omicron variant
World Health Organisation (WHO) officials have named the new B.1.1529 coronavirus variant “Omicron”, designating it as a variant of concern just weeks after it was first detected.
The announcement came on Friday amid growing concerns that it is highly transmissible and could reduce the efficacy of vaccines. However, given that Omicron only emerged recently, scientists believe it could take a few months before we have a more complete understanding of the scale of the threat it poses.
What is certain is that this variant, which descends from the B.1.1 lineage, is “unprecedented” and “very unusual” in the number of its mutations.
But, what else do we know? Eleanor Sly and Emily Atkinson investigate.
B.1.1529 has ‘incredibly high’ number of mutations on its spike protein
Watch: Johnson announces PCR tests for all UK arrivals
PCR tests for all arrivals, PM announces in attempt to fight Omicron variant
ICYMI: Ashworth outlines steps needed to ‘get ahead of Omicron’
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth earlier outlined what he believes are the necessary steps to tackle the new Omicron Covid variant.
His advice included measures such a decent sick pay to encourage those with symptoms to stay at home, and to ensure enclosed spaces such as schools have the necessary ventilation.
The Labour MP is currently in self-isolation, having tested positive for Covid himself on Friday.
Eight learnings from Omicron press conference earlier
Boris Johnson was joined by chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, for a Downing Street press conference on Saturday.
The trio discusses new measures following the emergence of the Omicron coronavirus variant in the UK.
Here’s the key takeaways from that briefing:
- Face masks will be compulsory in shops and on public transport in England from next week.
- Anyone entering the UK from any destination abroad will have to take a PCR test two days after arrival and self-isolate until they have a negative result.
- Anyone who has been in close contact with a case of Omicron will have to self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status.
- The new measures will be reviewed within three weeks.
- The two cases discovered in the UK were part of the same outbreak and are in Essex and Nottingham.
- Omicron can be spread between people who are double vaccinated.
- The variant has an “extensive” mutation which means in may “at least in part” reduce the protection of the vaccine over time, the PM said.
- Omicron “really changes the risk/benefit calculations” for the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation regarding recommending vaccines to younger children, meaning children under 12 could soon be eligible.
Additional reporting by PA
ICYMI: Expert says Omicron ‘unlikely’ to trigger new Covid wave in UK
A vaccine expert has said it is “extremely unlikely” that the new Omicron variant will trigger a major new wave of the Covid pandemic in the UK, despite the sudden return of travel restrictions.
Professor Andrew Pollard revealed his “optimism” that current vaccines will continue to prevent serious disease – and suggested Omicron will not outrun the dominant Delta variant in Europe, writes our deputy political editor Rob Merrick.
Prof Pollard, the director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, said it is “too early” to be certain whether the new variant will be able to evade current vaccinations, something unlikely to be known for 2-3 weeks. But he said most of the mutations in Omicron are in the same parts of the spike protein as those in the other variants that have emerged.
“That tells you that, despite those mutations existing in other variants, the vaccines have continued to prevent serious disease as we’ve moved through Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta,” he said.
Professor Andrew Pollard reveals ‘optimism’ that current vaccines will prevent serious disease
Spain closes border to unvaccinated Britons
Spain has announced that as of next month, British tourists will only be admitted into the country if they can show proof of a Covid-19 vaccine.
It comes amid tightening travel restrictions due to the new Omicron Covid variant, which is fast spreading across Europe.
Until now, British travellers could gain entry into Spain by showing a Covid vaccine certificate or via a negative PCR test result taken up to 72 hours before arriving.
“The appearance of new variants causing [Covid] obliges an increase in restrictions” with regard to people from the UK, the announcement in Spain’s Bulletin of State said.
It will come into force from next Wednesday (1 December).
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