The rules on face coverings in shops and on public transport will be tightened, the Prime Minister said.
Boris Johnson made the announcement at a No 10 conference following the arrival of the new Omicron Covid strain in the UK.
It is not initially clear exactly how the rules would be ‘tightened up’ as the PM said.
When asked for clarity by Sky’s Nick Martin, he said: ‘What we’re looking at is retail and transport – just going back to a position where you have to wear them in retail settings or on public transport.
‘But the Health Secretary – Saj (Sajid Javid) will be setting out more in the course of the next day or so.’
An update on the Prime Minister’s Twitter profile said: ‘Face coverings will become compulsory on public transport and in shops. Not including hospitality.’
Johnson also announced that anyone arriving in England will have to take a PCR test on day two of their return and self-isolate until they have a negative result.
The new Omicron strain has been dubbed ‘the worst yet’, as it carries mutations that scientists believe makes it more transmissible and resistant to antibodies.
In a bid to ‘buy time’ before the strain reached Britain’s shores, the Government added six African nations to England’s travel red list.
This will require arrivals from those countries to quarantine in specially designated hotels.
Earlier today it was announced that four more countries – Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola – will be added to the list.
Given the Omicron stain’s prevalence in southern Africa, these measures may help, but nonetheless two cases of the variant were confirmed in the UK today.
Urging caution over the strain at today’s conference, Johnson said: ‘As always we must stress with a new variant there are many things that we just cannot know at this early stage.
‘But our scientists are learning more hour by hour and it does appear that Omicron spreads very rapidly and can be spread between people who are double vaccinated.
‘There is also a very extensive mutation which means it diverges quite significantly from previous configurations of the virus.
‘As a result it might in part reduces the protection of our vaccines over time so we need to take targeted and proportionate measures now as a precaution while we find out more and first we need to slow down the seeding of this variant in our country.
‘We need to buy time for our scientists to understand exactly what we’re dealing with and for us to get more people vaccinated and above all to get more people boosted.’
While the effectiveness of vaccines against Omicron is currently unclear, Johnson said there are ‘good reasons for believing they will provide at least some measure of protection’.
He said ‘we’re going to boost the booster campaign’ by asking the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to consider giving boosters to ‘as wide a group as possible as well as reducing the gap’ between second doses and the booster.
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