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Boris drafts in army as he unveils plans for 'another great British vaccination effort'

Who can get a booster jab at the moment, how long is the wait and when can anyone over the age of 18 get one? 

Who has had a booster jab so far? 

Around 17.9million Britons over the age of 40, NHS workers and the clinically vulnerable have had the booster jab since the campaign began in September.

Anyone over the age of 40 or in the above groups can still book one on the NHS website or via the 119 service.

Most of the jabs are being carried out by pharmacies with a wait of around a month for a third vaccination. 

What has changed with the booster rollout?

13million people aged 18 to 39 in the UK will now also be eligible for a third dose, bringing the total to 53million.

The interval between the second and third dose has been halved from six months to three months.

They will get the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, even if they received the AstraZeneca jab for their first two doses.

Why the change?

The threat of a new wave caused by the Omicron variant means officials want to increase immunity in the population to ensure there is no threat of new restrictions in the run up to Christmas.

Boosters - which increase protection against infection to 93 per cent against Delta - are seen as the best way of doing this.

The interval has been slashed to three months because this is long enough gap to top-up immunity, while also maximising the number of people who can get the jab before Omicron hits. 

How will the NHS run the ramped-up booster programme?

The NHS will have to drastically increase the number of booster jabs it delivers, which is currently averaging around 366,000 a day. They have asked for volunteers to come forward to help with the 'vital national effort'. The boosters will be prioritised in the same way as the initial vaccine rollout - in descending order by age group. Professor Van-Tam stressed: 'We don't want people from the very youngest somehow getting in front of people who are at much higher risk of a bad outcome.' 

How will I be invited for the booster?

Under-40s will be invited to book by their GP in descending order by age group. 

Over-40s can also book online through the National Booking Service, by ringing 119, or attending walk-in centres. 

The Prime Minister is likely to set out more details today. Ministers are determined to turbocharge the booster rollout, increasing the number of jabs delivered per week from around 2.5million to closer to 4 million in the lead up to Christmas, with the aim of offering every adult a booster by the end of January.  

Boris Johnson today unveiled the UK's huge new booster programme to deliver third doses to all adults by the end of January as the best line of defence against the new Omicron supermutant Covid variant, after eight more cases of the strain were found in England.

The Prime Minister called in the Army and offered GPs an extra £15 for every injection as he pushed for 'another great surge' in vaccinations across the UK to ramp up the booster drive from 340,000 to 500,000 jabs a day and outflank the variant. 

Cases of the variant were spotted in Barnet and  Haringey in London, Liverpool, North Norfolk and Sutton, taking the UK's total for the variant up to 22, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) confirmed, with hundred more suspected infections still being sequenced.

Mr Johnson said new vaccination centres will be 'popping up like Christmas trees' around the country as the UK scrambles to boost its jab capacity to levels seen at the start of the year to help combat the new strain. 

He said 'proportional' restrictions including compulsory face masks on public transport and in shops, nail salons and hairdressers have been brought in to buy time for scientists to 'crack the Omicron code'.

Speaking at a Downing Street Press Conference this evening, Mr Johnson said: 'Now is the time for another great British vaccination effort. We've done it before and we'll do it again, let's not give this virus another chance.' 

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said 18 million booster doses have been delivered across the UK, and the daily number of jabs has risen by a third since the start of this month.

He added that people should get vaccinated to 'give ourselves the best chance of a Christmas with our loved ones'.

And NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard said she was aiming to free up capacity to allow hospitals, GPs and other services to administer more booster jabs. 

The Prime Minister promised to 'throw everything at it' after the Government's vaccines advisers expanded the rollout to everyone aged over 18 and cut the gap between jabs to three months. 

Before today, about 18million people had received a booster out of 25million who could have come forward. But the change in advice means that 53million Britons in total will eventually qualify for a booster.

Despite 500 new vaccination sites opening since April, the rate of vaccination has plunged from 800,000 per day in March this year to just 342,000 on average now.

At the current rate, it would take three-and-a-half months for the programme to reach everybody — sometime in March. 

The booster rollout has been plagued by problems since launching in September, however, which has raised concerns about whether it can cope with the increased capacity.

GPs say they are too busy trying to deal with record non-Covid care backlogs that have amassed during the pandemic and figures show there are a third fewer mass vaccination hubs giving out boosters now compared to the initial vaccine rollout.

Vulnerable patients say they've had to wait weeks to get a booster appointment because most are being administered in local pharmacies that are operating with limited staff and during limited hours.  

Mr Johnson spoke out amid grave concerns in the NHS about his 500,000 jabs a day target to outpace Omicron — as ministers lined up GPs to do the work but doctors claimed they are 'burnt out' and warned more face-to-face appointments with patients will have to go if they are expected to help.    

Today the Health Service Journal reported that from December 1, doctors will receive £15 for each jab given from Monday to Saturday – up from £12.58. This will reach £20 for Sunday and Bank Holiday vaccinations until the end of January. The pay for jabs in care homes and houses will also rise.

One NHS chief executive said getting GPs to lead the surge was 'a very big ask, on top of many other very big asks', adding it would be extremely difficult to reach the 3.5million rate due to a lack of medics, volunteers and facilities after a third of vaccination centres closed this summer.

A GP practice manager tweeted: 'Cash won't make much difference, it's the workload & workforce that's the problem. Is not just jabbers but the back room engine tracking and calling patients, organising rotas, sorting out logistics etc'. 

Soldiers will also be called back. Some are currently helping deliver the vaccine in Scotland but not in England. Before they were stood down in July, as well as putting jabs in arms, they also co-ordinated distribution of the vaccines and set up vaccination centres. 

Tens of thousands of volunteers and retired doctors and nurses who helped over the past 12 months will also be needed again this winter. 

Boris Johnson today called on all Britons aged 18 and over to come forward for their booster by the end of January as the best line of defence against the new Omicron supermutant Covid variant

An average of 2.1million people in England are getting their booster jab per week, meaning all over-40s won't be boosted until February 13 if the rollout continues at its current rate

Combat medics from Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps vaccinate members of the public at a rapid vaccination centre, set up outside Bolton Town Hall in June. NHS leaders are said to demanding  them back to help with the current rush for boosters

Hospitality, retail and travel bosses plead with Boris not to bring back restrictions 

Hospitality chiefs, retail leaders and travel bosses today urged Boris Johnson 'Don't ruin our Christmas' after health experts suggested it was 'sensible' for people to limit socialising over the festive period.

In a warning sure to dishearten firms hoping for a bumper festive season, the Prime Minister today tapped on the brakes as he urged caution over socialising in the lead up to the winter holidays. 

His message of Christmas caution came after Government's top health experts said a warry approach to office parties could help stop the spread of the new Omicron coronavirus variant.

But bosses of beleaguered hospitality businesses - still recovering from nearly two years of Covid disruption - today warned further setbacks could be the 'final nail in the coffin' for some venues.

Others warned the Government not to be heavy-handed with restrictions in what they described as a 'critical time for the sector'. 

It comes as Dr Jenny Harries, the chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency and boss of NHS Test and Trace, said 'being careful' and 'not socialising when we don't particularly need to' could be beneficial. 

She also hinted there could be a return to working from home guidance in England if cases increase as she said that 'if we see surges, then working from home will be a good thing to do'. 

Mr Johnson was asked about Dr Harries' socialising comments during a visit to a vaccination centre in London at lunchtime and he said he believes it is 'always sensible to be careful' and 'I think what Jenny is saying there is right'.

However, the Prime Minister insisted that the Government is 'not going to change the overall guidance' as he said he is sticking with his original response to the new variant. 

On another day of Covid chaos and doubts about whether the booster rollout can go at the pace required, it also emerged: 

Speaking at the Downing Street press conference, Mr Johnson said: 'We've already done almost 18 million boosters across the UK but we've got millions more to do to protect the most vulnerable.

'Then we'll move down the cohorts rapidly, and working together with the devolved administrations we want to ramp up capacity across the whole United Kingdom to the levels we achieved in the previous vaccination effort.

'We're going to be throwing everything at it in order to ensure that everyone eligible is offered that booster, as I say, in just over two months.'

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the booster programme would be put 'on steroids' to meet the target.

The need for action was underlined as the number of confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the UK reached 22, with that figure expected to increase further. 

Mr Javid told a press conference: 'What we're seeing recently has brought back memories of the strain of the last winter. But although we can't say with certainty what lies ahead, we have one huge advantage that we didn't have back then: our vaccination programme, which has already done so much to keep this virus at bay.

'But these defences will only keep us safe if we use them. This is a national mission and we all have a role to play.

'If we want to give ourselves the best chance of a Christmas with our loved ones, the best thing we can all do is step up, roll up our sleeves, and get protected when the time comes.'

Ms Pritchard said: 'The NHS Covid vaccination programme was already in its most complex phase and staff are now working at breakneck speed to respond to this, the biggest change in eligibility since the programme was launched.'

Ms Pritchard said 'while changes to the booking system protocols and patient group directive are put in place' the rollout will continue to vaccinate those already eligible and repeated the Prime Minister's call for people 'not already eligible' not to contact the NHS about a jab until they are called forward.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits the Lordship Lane Primary Care Centre in Tottenham today as he said Britain would have to go jab mad this winter

Visiting a vaccination centre in Tottenham, north London, earlier this afternoon, Mr Johnson said: 'I know people will be thinking 'have we got to make another great surge like we did earlier this year?' - and I'm afraid the answer is yes.

'We are going to throw everything at it and hope we can do the same thing again. Everybody can see the situation we are in, and the huge amount of progress we have made against the Delta variant. We now have his question about the Omicron variant... while there is doubt about what that variant can do, what we do know is the boosters can give you protection.' 

Mr Johnson said the 'crucial thing is for everybody to come and get your boosters'. 

Amid long delays for those already eligible for a booster, the Prime Minister also admitted he is among those 'waiting and waiting' for a third jab. 'And I am proud to say I will be going along duly later this week,' he said, adding: 'I have been waiting for my time to come, but now the JCVI have accelerated the timetable for everyone.'

He was asked about the comments of Dr Jenny Harries, the head of NHS Test and Trace, who today warned Britons not to socialise before Christmas 'unless you need to' in a noticeable shift in tone as the mutant Omicron strain was detected in three more people in Scotland, bringing the UK's total to 14.  

But Mr Johnson said: 'We don't see any need at present, certainly, to change the overall guidance about how people should be living their lives.'

The Government's vaccines advisers yesterday expanded the rollout to everyone aged over 18 despite those already eligible struggling to get one before Christmas or having to travel 35 miles or more to their nearest vaccination centre. 

Figures show a third fewer mass vaccination hubs are in operation compared to earlier this year, while overwhelmed NHS staff say they will struggle to help with getting jabs in arms due to winter pressures, with pharmacies picking up most of the slack but only offering appointments in around a month's time. 

Yesterday's announcement saw the NHS ' website crash under the weight of people trying to book an appointment, and the 119 phoneline overwhelmed, leading to Health Minister Gillian Keegan today urging people to wait to be contacted by their GP.

Delivering 3.5million jabs per week until February has caused panic in the health service, with two NHS leaders telling the Health Service Journal's Dave West that 'the Army should be brought in to help'.  

Dr Farah Jameel, chair of the BMA's England GP committee, said today that less urgent appointments like routine blood pressure checks should go. 'We are bound by these contracts. We have been calling for that to be lifted for months now. We are a burnt out workforce', she said.

'What we are asking for a refocus of clinical priorities. We simply cannot deliver everything. We need to focus on clinical need. At this moment on time, the focus has to be on rolling out a monumental vaccination and booster programme and all hands on deck. We can deliver that but we are distracted by scattergun priorities. We do need to be released from contractual responsibilities'.

She added: 'There is this obsession with undeliverable targets. Since April all our contractual targets switched back on and that correlates with practices withdrawing from the vaccination scheme because we simply do not have the workforce.' 

Gillian Keegan told Sky News : 'In the next couple of days we'll have the plan', adding the aim is to vaccinate 3.5million people a week — up from 2.5million currently. People will be contacted in five-year age brackets, she said, meaning the 35s to 39 group will be next.

Ms Keegan said the booking of booster jabs for all adults would open in age order and the systems would be up and running 'in the next couple of days'. People will be called by GP in age order, she said, adding: 'I think probably what will happen is the next cohort will be invited forward and then they'll be given, you know, some timeframes.

'But within the next couple of months... we are pretty good at this, standing up these operations, so we do know what to do but we just need to give the NHS a bit of time to operationalise... because we're doubling the eligible people, more or less, who are due a booster now.' 

But Robert Dingwall, professor of sociology at Nottingham Trent University, said that even though vaccination experts have reduced the time frame between second jabs and boosters, it was likely people would still be waiting for a period of months before being called forward.

'Many of the premises of vaccine hubs have now reverted to their everyday use,' he told Talk Radio.

'Many of the volunteers about got jobs and they've gone back to work.

'I don't think it's going to be possible to get the same kind of speed and capacity as we as we saw earlier (in the year).

'So allowing people to get jabs from three months after their last dose, in practice, I suspect that most, mostly it will be for four or five, even six months.

'Especially as JCVI has been very insistent that the NHS should call people forward according to the existing priority groups so that you know those at greater risk gets the get access to the vaccines first.

'But I certainly encourage anybody who is invited to come forward and to take up the offer.'

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said today over-18s in the UK would be invited for a third Covid jab in a bid to control the spread and boost protection against the new Omicron variant. The move prompted thousands to rush to book their jabs, with people being stuck in a virtual queue on the NHS website behind thousands of people (pictured)

The Government is 'very much hoping that we can keep Christmas on track', health minister Gillian Keegan said.

She told Sky News the position this year was much different due to the vaccine rollout.

She said: 'Of course Christmas is on track, and actually what everybody wants for Christmas is if you haven't had your first jab, come and get it, if you haven't had your second jab, come and get it, and if you haven't had your booster, come and get it when you're asked.'

Ms Keegan added that the chances of having to isolate over Christmas were 'pretty low'. 

She also admitted it is 'difficult' to get the balance of restrictions against the new variant of coronavirus right.

Speaking to Sky News, Ms Keegan was asked whether the Government was overreacting with the new measures introduced.

But she said: 'We're trying to get that balance and proportion and it is difficult because it's unknown.'

She said the measures would 'buy some time' while scientists look into the Omicron variant.

She added: 'We will review it in three weeks. That'll give the scientists enough time to hopefully give us some insights.' 

Meanwhile, No10's spokesperson today said it was keeping the definition of 'fully vaccinated' 'under review', paving the way for people to need all three doses to be considered properly immunised.  

Britons are currently considered to be 'fully vaccinated' if they received their second dose of AstraZeneca, Pfizer or Moderna at least two weeks ago. 

If boosters were required to be considered completely immunised, all adults in the UK may require third doses to go to pubs, restaurants, cinemas and theatres as well as to work in health or social care. 

Pictured: Brian Bull (left), 83, and Jennifer Hodgkinson (right), 79, faced problems getting their boosters because of confusing instructions on the NHS website, they said, and claim they have been turned away from clinics they thought were walk-ins

Moderna CEO warns vaccine antibody levels could be up to EIGHT TIMES lower against Omicron variant 

The current crop of Covid vaccines may not be as effective against the Omicron variant, according Moderna's chief executive.

Stephane Bancel told CNBC's Squawk Box that his company is researching the variant and trying to determine how much of a risk it poses to Americans.

He fears that the antibodies Moderna's Covid vaccine provides to fight against the virus could be eight times lower against the new strain.

The variant, which emerged last week, is believed to be the most infectious yet and could have the ability to evade vaccine protection. 

Mr Bancel said: 'There are two key things that we don't know yet and will find out in [coming] weeks.

'One is vaccine efficacy. What is the impact of this new variant on the vaccine efficacy, and we should know that in around two weeks.' 

'We believe this [variant] is highly infectious… it seems to be much more infectious than Delta.

'Given the large level of mutation it is highly possible that the efficacy of the vaccines, all of them, is going down.'

The JCVI previously advised the over-40s, health workers and those at high risk from Covid to get a booster to 'help them maintain high levels of protection against hospitalisation, severe illness or dying over the winter'.

But today it said 18 to 39-year-olds will also be offered third doses, in descending age groups in a bid to control the spread and boost protection against the new Omicron variant.

Experts fear the strain — scientifically known as B.1.1.529 — is more infectious than Delta and can dodge vaccine protection because its mutations make it look so different to previous versions of the virus. 

And due to the risk posed by the Omicron variant the third injection can be given from three months after the second dose, slashing the minimum wait from six months. 

Professor Wei Shen Lim, chair of Covid immunisation at the JCVI, said: 'Having a booster dose of the vaccine will help to increase our level of protection against the Omicron variant. 

'This is an important way for us to reduce the impact of this variant on our lives, especially in the coming months. 

'If you are eligible for a booster, please take up the offer and keep yourself protected as we head into winter.'

But since the booster programme was expanded to over-40s on November 15, dozens of people have reported spending hours on the phone to their GP or the NHS booking service, with one woman only getting through on her 92nd call.

And some eligible elderly patients were told their next available appointment was in a month's time.

Red tape is also hampering the rollout, with one 94-year-old blind woman turned away from a jab centre in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, as she arrived a day early. 

Patients are being encouraged to use the NHS walk-in finder for their nearest centre, supposed to be within ten miles.

But some have been told they must travel tens of miles to get their vaccine as many GP surgeries and pharmacies do not offer top-up jabs. 

Brian Bull and his partner Jennifer struggled to get their boosters because of confusing instructions on the NHS website.

Mr Bull, 83, was due for his jab nearly a month ago but is turned away by a clinic near his home in Appleby, Cumbria, every time he goes to it. 

He added: 'The NHS website said there was a walk-in centre at Penrith. We drove the 14 miles only for the receptionist to say she knew nothing about it.'

And figures last month revealed there are a third fewer mass vaccination hubs in operation compared to when the original two-dose Covid vaccine programme was at the peak of its powers in April.

The head of NHS Test and Trace today warned Britons not to socialise before Christmas 'unless you need to' in a noticeable shift in tone as the mutant Omicron strain was detected in three more people in Scotland, bringing the UK's total to 14. 

Dr Jenny Harries, one of No10's top public health experts, issued the stark warning as she admitted that the mutant could have a 'significant impact on our hospitals' because existing vaccines are expected to be significantly less effective.

She hinted that WFH is already being considered within Government and could be the next measure to be reintroduced if the outbreak starts to grow, adding: 'If we see surges, then working from home will be a good thing to do.'  

The Government's new rules on face masks and self-isolation to slow the spread of the variant came into effect in England from 4am this morning, with coverings now compulsory on public transport, in shops, beauty salons and hairdressers.

But Labour's London Mayor Sadiq Khan today urged people in the capital to go one step further and wear face masks in pubs and restaurants, deviating from official guidance.  

Nationally, the restrictions are to be reviewed again in three weeks, which means Britons could be stung with last-minute curbs just days before Christmas. 

In a round of interviews, Mr Khan said: One of my requests from the Government is, let's not have a hokey cokey when it comes to face mask-wearing where they're going to review it in three weeks' time.

'As far as I'm concerned, on public transport — because more often than not we've got to be confined, we can't keep our social distance — let's keep it at mandatory with the ability to back it up with the police, with the ability to issue fines even in three weeks' time, finger crossed, should Omicron not be as bad as some fear.'

Boris Johnson will hold a Downing Street press conference at 4pm this afternoon to outline how to book booster jabs amid fears the top-up drive will not be able to keep up with ministers' demands for at least 500,000 a day. 

NHS leaders today demanded the Army be called back in to help administer the target after GPs warned No10 that some face-to-face appointments with patients will have to go if they are expected to help.

The Government's vaccines advisers have expanded the rollout to everyone aged over 18 despite those already eligible struggling to get one before Christmas or having to travel 35 miles or more to their nearest vaccination centre. 

Scientists say it will take two weeks to truly work out how effective jabs are against Omicron, which has twice as many mutations on its spike protein as Delta. The strain is expected to make current vaccines significantly weaker at preventing infections, but it's less clear how it will impact hospitalisations and deaths. 

Britain yesterday expanded its current booster rollout for all adults over 18. Even though the vaccines are expected to be much weaker against Omicron, it is hoped that topping up everyone's immunity to very high levels will offer an extra line of defence against the incoming wave. 

The Prime Minister's official spokesperson slapped down Dr Harries's urge to the public to stop socialising. Asked if it was as a view Mr Johnson shared, they said: 'No. Our advice to the public is as set out at the weekend. 

'We have put advice out on face coverings and on inward travellers and those who are identified as having the Omicron variant of coronavirus. Beyond that we haven't set out any further guidance to the public.' 

Boris Johnson (pictured this morning in during a visit to Lordship Lane Primary care Centre in north London) will hold a Downing Street press conference at 4pm this afternoon to give an update on the Covid situation and lay out the suite of measures that kicked in this morning to tackle the variant

Vaccine-makers Moderna and Pfizer are already working on Covid vaccines that could tackle the Omicron strain, if it poses a problem for the current crop of vaccines, but they won't be ready until mid-2022

The Government's new rules on face masks and self-isolation to slow the spread of the variant came into effect in England from 4am this morning, which mean coverings are compulsory on public transport, in shops, beauty salons and hairdressers. Pictured: Commuters at Kings Cross station in London this morning

British tourists' ski holiday chaos as Switzerland brings in Covid rules that require TEN-DAY quarantine 

Winter holiday plans for thousands of Britons have been thrown into chaos after Switzerland suddenly tightened Covid entry rules over fears of the Omicron variant. 

Anyone wanting to travel to the Alpine country from the UK including for onward transit now has to quarantine for 10 days on arrival, even if they have been double-vaccinated, recovered from Covid or tested negative.

The rules will ruin the holiday plans of thousands of Britons who fly to Geneva in order to reach nearby French ski resorts such as Val Thorens, Courchevel, and Meribel - as well as resorts in Switzerland itself.

It comes after France announced it would require a Covid vaccine pass to access ski slopes, causing further difficulties for Britons wanting to travel.

Those hoping to reach the French resorts are now being forced to divert to Lyon, though capacity is far more limited at that airport than Geneva

Anyone unable to get a flight to Lyon faces either a three-hour transfer from Grenoble, or else an eight-hour journey from Calais.

The Prime Minister this morning defended England's new coronavirus rules, which he claimed are 'proportionate and responsible'.

'The measures taking effect today are proportionate and responsible, and will buy us time in the face of this new variant,' he said. 'Vaccines and boosters remain our best line of defence, so it is more important than ever that people come forward when eligible to get boosted.' 

Professor Paul Moss, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), said that scientists are 'well prepared' to tweak the vaccines in the event that the Omicron variant evades the protection afforded by the current vaccines. AstraZeneca on Saturday said it has developed a platform to allow it to 'quickly respond' to any emerging variants, including Omicron. 

Scottish health authorities announced three more Omicron cases overnight, bringing Scotland's total to nine spread between Glasgow and Lanarkshire. 

The UK's total is 14, with five further cases found in Nottingham, Brentwood, Camden, Wandsworth and Westminster. Labs across the country are probing hundreds more probable cases and there are signs the strains already spreading in the community.   

UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) chief executive Dr Harries today told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the advice from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) 'has shown that if we have significant surges in Covid cases, then actually working from home is one of the key ones to implement and that's why it is in Plan B'.

'But it's probably worth just thinking through at the moment; although I'm sure we will have more cases announced, we do only have five confirmed cases (of the new Omicron variant in England) and 10 highly probable at the moment.

'So it's a very early stage for this, I think, but certainly, if we see surges, then working from home will be a good thing to do.' 

The Botswana variant has around 50 mutations and more than 30 of them are on the spike protein. The current crop of vaccines trigger the body to recognise the version of the spike protein from older versions of the virus. But the mutations may make the spike protein look so different that the body's immune system struggles to recognise it and fight it off. And three of the spike mutations (H665Y, N679K, P681H) help it enter the body's cells more easily. Meanwhile, it is missing a membrane protein (NSP6) which was seen in earlier iterations of the virus, which experts think could make it more infectious. And it has two mutations (R203K and G204R) that have been present in all variants of concern so far and have been linked with infectiousness 

Dr Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association and the first person to spot the new variant in a patient, said her patients infected with Omicron reported different and much milder symptoms, including tiredness, muscle aches, a sore head and a dry cough. But none reported the tell-tale symptoms of a loss of smell or taste or breathing difficulties 

Christmas parties are under threat after new head of NHS Test and Trace today warned Britons not to socialise before the holidays 'unless you need to'

'When we have a plan...we'll contact you': Health minister tries to calm booster jabs booking scramble 

A Health Minister today urged up to 40million Britons now eligible for a booster to be 'patient' as they put a plan together with GPs to administer 500,000 jabs a day to outflank the Omicron variant - but the proposal has already hit trouble because doctors insist they have no capacity to do it.

The Government's vaccines advisers have expanded the rollout to everyone aged over 18 despite those already eligible struggling to get one before Christmas or having to travel 35 miles or more to their nearest vaccination centre.

Yesterday's announcement saw the NHS' website crash under the weight of people trying to book an appointment, and the 119 phoneline overwhelmed, leading to Health Minister Gillian Keegan today urging people to wait to be contacted by their GP.

She told Sky News: 'In the next couple of days we'll have the plan', adding the aim is to vaccinate 3.5million people a week - up from 2.5million currently. People will be contacted in five-year age brackets, she said, meaning the 35s to 39 group will be next.

Ms Keegan said the booking of booster jabs for all adults would open in age order and the systems would be up and running 'in the next couple of days'. People will be called by GP in age order, she said, adding: 'I think probably what will happen is the next cohort will be invited forward and then they'll be given, you know, some timeframes.

'But within the next couple of months... we are pretty good at this, standing up these operations, so we do know what to do but we just need to give the NHS a bit of time to operationalise... because we're doubling the eligible people, more or less, who are due a booster now.'

But asked about whether Dr Harries had raised the return of the work-from-home guidance in cabinet meetings, the Prime Minister's official spokesperson today told MailOnline the health expert had been speaking out of turn.

They said: 'That wasn't something she raised at Cabinet, no. It is not our advice to the public currently.

'You will know the measures we set out at the weekend. We have Plan B as you say, that is well worked up, those plans can be brought in if required.

'But currently there is nothing in the data and given what we currently know about this variant and indeed what we do not know we believe our approach as set out at the weekend is the proportionate and responsible one.' 

Speaking earlier about vaccine effectiveness, Dr Harries said it is highly likely that the UK's vaccination programme will be beneficial in the face of the Omicron variant but experts also expect vaccine effectiveness to be reduced.

She said the current understanding is that the booster will 'shoot up your immunity levels and so getting that high background level of immunity on a population basis may, to some extent, counter the reduced effectiveness against this particular variant'.

She added that there is a need to 'be really careful about interpreting the data' after suggestions from South Africa that the variant is causing mild illness, saying that the UK has an older population, with an average age of 41, compared with 27 in South Africa. 

Meanwhile, Mr Khan hinted that coverings might need to be extended to hospitality settings at a later date if the so-called 'Omicron' variant is worse than feared. 

In an interview with Sky News this morning, he urged: 'If you're in a pub, bar or restaurant, particularly if you're standing up in one of those bars rather than at a table, and you can't keep your distance, and you're not drinking, wear a facemask.'

It comes after Health Minister Gillian Keegan today insisted it is better for the UK to 'overreact than underreact' to the new Omicron coronavirus variant after Joe Biden told the US the mutant strain is 'not a cause for panic'. 

Ms Keegan said ministers are trying to strike the right 'balance' in the response but she admitted it is a difficult judgment to make because there are many 'unknowns' associated with the variant. 

All travellers returning to the UK must now take a PCR test on or before day two after their arrival. They can leave isolation once they have a negative test result.  

Close contacts of Omicron cases must isolate at home for ten days regardless of whether they are vaccinated or not, prompting fears of another 'pingdemic'.

Ms Keegan insisted 'Christmas is on track' amid fears the Omicron variant could result in more people having to self-isolate over the festive period. 

Head of Moderna warns 'it will be MONTHS' before there is a specific jab to fight Omicron 

Covid vaccine maker Moderna warned today that it will take months to develop an Omicron-specific booster jab as Scotland detected three more cases of the mutant strain and Boris Johnson prepares to give an update on the variant at a Downing Street press briefing.

Stephane Bancel, chief executive at Massachusetts-based Moderna, said he expects the highly-evolved coronavirus variant to cause a 'material drop' in the effectiveness of existing vaccines, warning that the result was 'not going to be good'. 

He warned that it will take until summer 2022 for Moderna to develop a new vaccine and scale up manufacturing to vaccinate entire populations. 

Scientists say it will take two weeks to truly work out how effective jabs are against Omicron, which has twice as many mutations on its spike protein as Delta. 

The strain is expected to make current vaccines significantly weaker at preventing infections, but it's less clear how it will impact hospitalisations and deaths is still unknown.

Last night US President Mr Biden said that 'this variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic'. 

His comments prompted scrutiny of the UK's response, which has seen ministers roll out three main curbs to buy scientists some time as they race to analyse the new variant and assess how effective existing vaccines will be against it. 

Ms Keegan was asked during an interview on Sky News if the UK is in danger of overreacting.

She replied: 'We are trying to get that balance and proportion and it is difficult because it is unknown so we need to buy some time so our scientists can work with the world's leading scientists to just basically figure out, we know it is very transmissible by looking, but we don't know whether it'll work with the vaccine, the vaccine will work, or the other treatments et cetera.

'So the scientists do need some time for that. We think we have got the balance and the proportional response to it. But we will review it in three weeks, that will give the scientists enough time to hopefully give us some insights then.'

Told that it could subsequently become apparent that the UK has overreacted, Ms Keegan said: 'I would rather overreact than underreact at this point. 

'I think we have been here so many times that, you know, we have got this fantastic wall of vaccine now, we want to keep that, we want to strengthen it.

'We would rather be stronger to be able to face any new variants and I think we have all the things, all the capability to do that, so that is what we would rather do.'  

The new self-isolation rules for people identified as a close contact of an Omicron case has sparked concerns of a potential 'pingdemic' at Christmas, should the variant surge in the UK in the coming weeks. 

Told that the restrictions could result in more people being unable to see their family over the Christmas period, Ms Keegan said: 'Obviously you could be self-isolating over Christmas. You could be. But what we are hoping is we keep these cases, obviously everybody is going to be contacted, people will start the isolation.

'With or without this you could be isolating for Christmas, with another variant.

Bring the Army back for booster jabs drive: Calls to mobilise soldiers to meet 3.5milllion-a-week target 

NHS leaders today demanded the Army be called back in to help administer 500,000 jabs a day and outflank the Omicron variant after GPs warned Boris Johnson and Sajid Javid that some face-to-face appointments with patients will have to go if they are expected to help.

The Government's vaccines advisers have expanded the rollout to everyone aged over 18 despite those already eligible struggling to get one before Christmas or having to travel 35 miles or more to their nearest vaccination centre. 

Figures show a third fewer mass vaccination hubs are in operation compared to earlier this year, while overwhelmed NHS staff say they will struggle to help with getting jabs in arms due to winter pressures, with pharmacies picking up most of the slack but only offering appointments in around a month's time. 

Yesterday's announcement saw the NHS' website crash under the weight of people trying to book an appointment, and the 119 phoneline overwhelmed, leading to Health Minister Gillian Keegan today urging people to wait to be contacted by their GP. 

Delivering 3.5million jabs per week until February has caused panic in the health service, with two NHS leaders telling the Health Service Journal's Dave West that 'the Army should be brought in to help'. Soldiers are currently helping deliver the vaccine in Scotland but not in England. 

As well as putting jabs in arms, they also co-ordinated distribution of the vaccines and set up vaccination centres before being largely stood down in the summer.

An average of 2.1million people in England are getting their booster jab per week, meaning all adults won't be boosted until mid-February if it continues at the current rate. 

But ministers are aiming to carry out 500,000 Covid booster jabs a day in an effort to outpace the Omicron variant. 

'Of course Christmas is on track. What everyone wants for Christmas is if you haven't had your first jab, come and get it, if you haven't had your second jab, come and get it, and if you haven't had your booster, come and get it when you are asked.'

Ms Keegan said that Christmas will 'hopefully not' be ruined, adding: 'Let's be proportional and balanced as we are trying to be, we have got five cases today, that will go up I am pretty sure, but what we are trying to do is really clampdown on that as much as possible.'

Meanwhile, asked about the prospect of Christmas plans being called off, Professor Paul Moss, of the Institute of Immunology and Immunotherapy at the University of Birmingham, told Sky News: 'I don't think we need to worry too much about that at this stage... the measures that we got in place have a good chance of gaining some control here.

'The two ways that we're adopting to try and control this are: one, in behavioural change to reduce transmission: the travel restrictions; more lateral flows; masking.

'And the second big factor is the immunity and we know that we may lose some immunity with this virus. So what is happening is we are boosting our immune levels to super-high levels with the plans that were introduced yesterday, and that should retain some protection.

'What we've seen with Covid is that things change very rapidly. And I think we need at least three weeks to assess this.

'We need excellent epidemiology and within the laboratory people are testing the resistance of the virus against vaccinated samples. So we will need that sort of time. And we will know a lot more before Christmas.'

He added: 'You probably saw that the doctor in South Africa who initially identified it had seen relatively mild cases, which is very encouraging. However, you know, that's a much younger population.

'It's the elderly population, we need to worry about - in South Africa only six per cent are above 65 years whereas we've got a much higher proportion.' 

Professor Moss insisted vaccine manufacturers should be able to produce new jabs tailored to the variant quickly.

He said: 'Well, as you know, the companies have already started — the gene has been cloned, but typically talking around 100 days.

'We've learned so much in the last 18 months — nobody felt we would get a vaccine within a year when the pandemic started, and we did — we got several.

'So it will be accelerated and, of course, if we were in that severe situation — but I really hope that we won't get to, by the way — we're very well prepared. We know what to do.'

Professor Adam Finn, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said that the UK had to 'act immediately and not wait' after the discovery of the Omicron variant.

He told BBC Breakfast: 'The main question is whether it's able to evade the immunity that we've got to some extent from the vaccine so far and the infections we've all had.

'And so because of that, and because of the possibility of a major wave, the thing to do now is to act immediately and not wait.' 

Q+A: So why are vulnerable people still struggling to get a booster? And how long will it take to boost everyone?

By Emily Craig

All adults in the UK will be offered a Covid booster in the coming months, but there are concerns it could take until spring to vaccinate everyone and NHS pressures could slow the rollout.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), No10's vaccine advisers, yesterday expanded the rollout to everyone aged over 18, meaning a total of 40million people in England are now eligible to receive a booster jab.

The move came amid concerns that the Omicron variant will slash the effectiveness of two doses of the vaccines, but scientists hope booster jabs can counter this reduction. 

However, reports on the ground suggest the current drive was already struggling to reach the vulnerable, following dozens of reports of elderly vulnerable patients struggling to get their vaccine.

And if the rollout continued at its current rate, it would take until February 13 to vaccinate all adults in England. 

The Prime Minister is due to give a Downing Street briefing at 4pm on how the rollout of boosters will proceed.   

How is the NHS going to cope with the rollout to tens of millions more Britons?

The NHS is currently dishing out around 342,000 top-up doses across the UK each day. 

If the rollout continues at its current pace, it will take until mid-March for all adults to have their third jab, while around 40million would be fully vaccinated by Christmas. 

But ministers are aiming to return to the early days of the vaccination campaign which saw 600,000 people jabbed a day. 

A senior government source told the Guardian ministers are aiming for a 'significant acceleration' in the booster vaccination drive, which would see 500,000 jabs administered a day, or about 3.5million a week.

'That is the early plan but it won't happen overnight,' the source said. 

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said today over-18s in the UK would be invited for a third Covid jab in a bid to control the spread and boost protection against the new Omicron variant. The move prompted thousands to rush to book their jabs, with people being stuck in a virtual queue on the NHS website behind thousands of people (pictured)

But so far, there have been dozens of reports of over-40s struggling to book a vaccine appointment even before the drive was widened to younger age groups. 

Their hurdles included waits of over a month, spending hours on the phone to their GP or booking service, or being directed to vaccination sites tens of miles away from where they live.

And the announcement of the expansion to the booster rollout yesterday could spur on the 12.6million over-40s eligible for a booster jab that have not yet come forward, meaning the overwhelmed health service could struggle to keep up with demand for third doses.

The JCVI announcement yesterday prompted thousands to rush to book their jabs, with people being stuck in a virtual queue on the NHS website behind thousands of people.

Why is the NHS already struggling with the rollout?

The NHS moved away from the flagship centres, many of which were set up temporarily in sports stadiums, shopping centres and museums, with local pharmacies and GP surgeries picking up more of the load.

This has led to longer waits for some people to get their booster jab. 

Current bumps in the rollout could be exacerbated by NHS capacity, with GPs and nurses stretched thin with winter pressures, meaning they may be unable to help get jabs into arms. 

Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, last month hinted GPs were struggling to get involved in the booster programme because they were already juggling a surge in demand for appointments and the flu jab campaign. 

And some eligible elderly patients were told their next available appointment was in a month's time.

Red tape is also hampering the rollout, with one 94-year-old blind woman turned away from a jab centre in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, as she arrived a day early.

Some patients have been told they must travel tens of miles to get their vaccine as many GP surgeries and pharmacies do not offer top-up jabs. 

How many people have got a booster vaccine so far?

Data from the Department of Health shows 17.8million people in the UK have had a booster injection.

Some 14.9million are triple-jabbed in England, 1.6million in Scotland, 866,951 in Wales and 374,669 in Northern Ireland.

By November 21 in England, 1.9million people in their 50s had their booster (25.6 per cent) and 2.9million individuals in their 60s were triple-jabbed (49.7 per cent).

Some 3.9million people in their 70s had all three injections (81.2 per cent), while 2.2million over-80s are fully vaccinated (78.7 per cent).

And 1.7million people in under-50 were triple-jabbed, equating to 24.4 per cent of people in their 40s. However, the figure will include some 16 to 39-year-olds who are at-risk from Covid, so are eligible for the top-up jab.

How long will it take for everyone to be boosted? 

The NHS is currently dishing out around 342,000 top-up doses across the UK each day.

Before the booster programme was expanded yesterday, 25.3million adults were eligible and 17.8million were triple-jabbed (70.4 per cent).

But the JCVI announcement yesterday means a total of 53million Britons are now eligible for boosters.

If the rollout continues at its current pace, it will take until mid March for the more than 35million adults in the UK on the booster waiting list to have their jab.

And around 40million would be fully vaccinated by Christmas. 

How many Britons have not come forward for their booster?  

Latest data for England goes up to November 21, when 28.4million over-40s were eligible for the jab. 

Some 12.8million third doses were dished out in England by this date, meaning 15.6million people had not received their booster dose.

However, some of the 15.6million may not have had their second dose less than six months ago, meaning they were not yet eligible.

Who can get a booster and how many people are eligible?

All adults in the UK will be eligible for a booster dose in the coming months, the JCVI said yesterday.

Around 50million people across the UK are now eligible for third doses and 17.8million jabs have been dished out so far.  

When can I get a booster injection?

The JCVI yesterday halved the minimum wait between second and third doses from six months to three months, meaning adults can get a booster 12 weeks after their second jab.

But third doses will be offered to people in the order of descending age groups — the same approach taken during the rollout of first and second jabs.

Priority will be given to the oldest age groups and most vulnerable, who have been eligible for the top-up dose since September.

It is unclear when the NHS will ask over-30s and younger age groups to come forward, but the Prime Minister is expected to provide more details at a press conference at 4pm this afternoon.

Which vaccine will I get for my third dose?

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will be dished out 'with equal preference' in the Covid booster scheme.

The JCVI said both injections 'substantially increase antibody levels when offered as a booster dose'.

Why did the JCVI cut the between doses from six to three months?

No10's scientists said the move was in response to the 'changing risk posed by the Omicron variant'.

The JCVI said it will 'raise levels of protection across the population'. 

Professor Wei Shen Lim, chair of Covid immunisation at the JCVI, said: 'Having a booster dose of the vaccine will help to increase our level of protection against the Omicron variant. 

'This is an important way for us to reduce the impact of this variant on our lives, especially in the coming months.'

Why do I need a booster if the new variant Omicron makes them less effective? 

Scientists expect the new Covid variant Omicron to reduce vaccine effectiveness.

But Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said booster jabs will 'shoot up immunity levels' and may counter the expected drop in protection from two doses.

Professor Van-Tam, England's deputy chief medical officer, admitted it was likely that the Omicron variant would make vaccines less effective, but said third doses should still protect against hospitalisation and death.

And the Prime Minister said: 'Based on everything we know, our vaccines and boosters remain our best line of defence, so it is more important than ever that people come forward when eligible to get boosted.'

What ARE the new Covid rules? Government says travellers can take PCR test on or BEFORE day two meaning they can take one at airport soon as they land in UK - as mask and self-isolation rules also start tomorrow

By Mark Duell for MailOnline

All people arriving in England from tomorrow will need to have a PCR test on or before day two after they land – meaning they could take one at the airport as soon as they touch down and be free from self-isolation requirements within hours.

Everyone entering the country from abroad from 4am will have to take a PCR test by the second day after their arrival and isolate until they receive a negative result.

It is one of a series of new rules including the return of face masks in shops and on trains, which will come into force tomorrow amid fears over the Omicron variant.

Previously, fully-vaccinated travellers were only required to take a cheaper lateral flow test - and did not need to self-isolate unless they received a positive result.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the PCR must be taken 'on or before day two', while Government advice says it must be 'taken before the end of day two'.

This means that those paying £119 could feasibly take a PCR test upon landing at Heathrow and get the results within just three hours - ending their self-isolation. 

But that has led to concerns that people could be unknowingly carrying Covid-19 even if they test negative, because the virus will not have had to time to incubate.

Amid those fears, Scotland's Nicola Sturgeon has urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to extend self-isolation rules for all UK arrivals from two to eight days. 

Arrivals in England who are unvaccinated will continue to need one pre-departure test and two post-arrival PCR tests, and must quarantine for ten days.

Meanwhile face coverings will be made compulsory on public transport and in shops, banks and hairdressers from 4am - but not in pubs and restaurants.

In another change in the rules, people identified as contacts of suspected Omicron cases will have to isolate for ten days regardless of their vaccination status.

The regulations will be laid in Parliament today before they come into force tomorrow - and MPs will get a retrospective vote within the next four weeks.

Here, MailOnline looks at what the changes in the rules will mean for you:

TRAVEL RULES

Fully-vaccinated people entering the UK will be required to self-isolate until they receive a negative result from a PCR test taken by the second day after they arrive. 

When do the travel rules on testing change?

The travel rules on testing will change in England at 4am tomorrow (Tuesday). The answers below are given for those arriving in the country after that time.

IF FULLY VACCINATED 

What must you do if you arrive in England and are fully vaccinated?

If you are fully vaccinated by 4am tomorrow, you must self-isolate, take a PCR test before the end of day two after you arrive and can only leave self-isolation once you have a negative result.

What was the previous situation? 

Previously, fully-vaccinated travellers were only required to take a cheaper lateral flow test - and did not need to self-isolate unless they received a positive result. 

Can you book a test to take at the airport?

Yes, you can pre-book a PCR test to take at airports such as Heathrow in advance of landing, although these sites tend to be only open within specified periods rather than being 24-hour. You must still self-isolate until you get your negative result.

Can you take a PCR test at the airport and be free from isolation within hours? 

Yes. For example at Heathrow Airport, you could book at ExpressTest with Cignpost from £59 for next-day results by 10pm; or a £119 test for results within three hours. 

You can end your self-isolation period once you have your negative result - meaning that you could be free within only three hours of landing.

What are the concerns about this rapid testing period?

There are fears that people could be unknowingly carrying Covid-19 even if they test negative, because the virus will not have had to time to incubate.

Scotland's Nicola Sturgeon has urged Boris Johnson to extend self-isolation rules for all UK arrivals from two to eight days - but the Prime Minister is unwilling to do this. 

Can you travel by train or bus to the place where you will self-isolate? 

Yes. Travellers must self-isolate at home until they get their result, although they can get to their quarantine location by public transport following their arrival. 

Can you use a lateral flow test?

No, lateral flow tests will not be accepted from 4am tomorrow – it must be a PCR test.

What must you do before you travel to England?

You have to book and pay for a PCR test to be taken before the end of day two in England, and complete a passenger locator form in the 48 hours before you arrive in England.

Air passengers queue to check in for flights at London Heathrow Airport this morning

Does England ask for a 'fit to fly' certificate before flying back in?

No, you just need to have your PCR test booked and passenger locator form filled out. You do not need to have a negative test result before you fly into England.

Can you use an NHS test for your PCR?

No, you must use a private test provider – and you will have to enter your test booking reference number on your passenger locator form.

What if you are in England for less than two days?

It does not matter - you will still need to book and pay for a day two test.

What is the definition of day two?

Day two is the second day after you arrive. The day you arrive is day zero. So if you arrive in England on a Friday, day two is a Sunday.

Do you have to quarantine until you get the test result?

Yes. You must self-isolate in your home or the place you are staying until you receive the result.

Where can you quarantine? 

The Government's official advice says you can quarantine at an address such as your own home, with friends or family, or in a standard hotel or other temporary accommodation.

You must quarantine at the address you provided on the passenger locator form. 

You do not have to quarantine in a managed quarantine hotel – because these are for only for people arriving from countries on the red list (see section below).

You must quarantine in one place for the full quarantine period, where you can have food and other necessities delivered.

Can you mix with other people while in quarantine at a hotel or home? 

The Government says that as soon as you arrive at your place of quarantine, 'you should, as far as possible, avoid contact with other people in the place where you're quarantining to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19'.

It adds: 'You should stay in a well ventilated room with an outside window that can be opened, separate from other people in your home.

'If you're staying in a hotel or guest house, you must stay away from others who did not travel with you. You must not use shared areas such as bars, restaurants, health clubs and sports facilities.'

What if the test results are delayed?

You must still self-isolate until your test result is known or until day 14 after arrival, whichever is sooner.

Passengers arrive at Heathrow Airport this morning as a testing centre sign is seen

What if the test result is unclear?

If you took a PCR test and the result is unclear, you must self-isolate for ten full days. The day you took the test is day zero. You can choose to take another private test – and, if the result is negative, you can stop self-isolating.

What if the test result is positive?

If you took a PCR test and the result is positive, you must self-isolate for ten full days. The day of the test is day zero.

What if the test result is negative?

You can end your period of self-isolation.

How do you qualify as fully vaccinated?

You must have proof of full vaccination with a full course of an approved vaccine.

You must have had your final dose of the vaccine at least 14 days before you arrive in England. The day you had your final dose is day zero.

You do not need to have had a third 'booster' jab in order to be defined as fully vaccinated. 

Who can have issued proof of vaccination?

Proof can be issued by either a) the UK vaccination programme; b) the United Nations vaccine programme for staff and volunteers; or c) an overseas vaccination programme with an approved proof of vaccination for travel to the UK.

How can you check which vaccines are approved?

Check which vaccines are approved and the list of countries and territories with approved proof of vaccination by clicking here.

Are there non-vaccinated people who can follow fully vaccinated rules?

Yes. Even if you are not fully vaccinated, the fully vaccinated rules apply if you are 1) under 18; 2) taking part in an approved Covid-19 vaccine trial in the UK or the USA (US residents only for USA trials), or a phase 2 or 3 vaccine trial that is regulated by the EMA (European Medicines Agency) or SRA; or 3) unable to have a Covid-19 vaccination for a medical reason which has been approved by a clinician under the medical exemptions process, and you are resident in England.

How can you prove your vaccination status if you were jabbed in the UK?

If you are fully vaccinated under the UK vaccination programme, you can prove your vaccination status using either the NHS Covid Pass for England and Wales; the NHS Scotland COVID Status app; the COVIDCert NI in Northern Ireland; or an approved paper certificate.

How can you prove your vaccination status if you were jabbed outside the UK?

Check what proof is required for the country or territory where you were vaccinated by clicking here.

IF NOT FULLY VACCINATED 

What if you cannot prove you are fully vaccinated under the rules in England?

If you cannot prove that you qualify under the fully vaccinated rules, you must follow the rules for people who are not fully vaccinated.

What do you have to do before arriving in England if you are not fully vaccinated?

Before you travel to England you must take a Covid-19 lateral flow or PCR test in the three days before you arrive; and book and pay for day two and day eight PCR tests, to be taken after arrival in England. You must also complete a passenger locator form in the 48 hours before you arrive.

The Omicron variant has now been detected in 14 countries. It was initially identified in Botswana, South Africa, and Hong Kong before being spotted in Belgium on Friday. Over the weekend several other countries confirmed cases. It has now spread to four continents in the almost three weeks since the first case

What do you have to do after you arrive in England if you are not fully vaccinated?

After you arrive in England you must quarantine at home or in the place you are staying for ten full days; take your Covid-19 PCR tests which must be booked before you travel; and take the first test on or before day two and the second test on or after day eight. The day you arrive is day zero.

What happens if you are not fully vaccinated and in England for less than ten days?

If you are in England for less than ten days, you need to quarantine for the time you are here – and you still need to book day two and day eight PCR tests, but only need to take these if you are still in England on those days.

What do you have to do if the day two test result is positive?

If your day two test is positive, you must self-isolate for ten full days. The day you took the test is day zero. You do not need to take the day 8 test if your day 2 test is positive.

What do you have to do if the day eight test result is positive?

If your day eight test is positive, you must self-isolate for ten full days. The day you took the day eight test is day zero.

What do you have to do if the day two test result is negative?

If your day two test is negative, you must continue to isolate and then take your day eight test.

What do you have to do if the day eight test result is negative?

If your day eight test is negative, you can stop quarantine on whichever is later – either 1) day ten, with day zero being the day you arrived in England; or 2) when you receive the day eight test result.

An example of this is that if you receive your day eight negative test result back on day nine, you must continue to quarantine until the end of day ten. But if you receive your day eight negative test result back on day 12, you must quarantine until the end of day 12.

What if the test results are unclear?

If the result of your day two test is unclear, you must self-isolate for ten full days. The day you took the test is day zero.

If your day eight test is unclear, you must self-isolate for ten full days. The day you took the day eight test is day zero.

You could also choose to take another private test. If that test result is a negative result, you can stop self-isolating on whichever is later – either 1) day 10, with day zero being the day you arrive in England; or 2) the day you received the negative replacement test result from the additional test.

Does the Test to Release scheme still apply?

Yes. If you need to quarantine, you may be able to end quarantine early if you pay for a private Covid-19 test through the Test to Release scheme.

Under the Test to Release scheme you can choose to pay for a private Covid-19 test on day five. If the result is negative - and the result of your day 2 test result was negative or inconclusive - you can end your quarantine.

CHILDREN 

Do children have to quarantine upon arrival in England?

No. Children aged 17 and under do not have to quarantine on arrival in England. This applies whether they are vaccinated or not.

Do children have to take a Covid test upon arrival in England?

Children aged four and under do not have to take any Covid-19 travel tests.

Those aged five to 17 do not have to take a Covid-19 test before travel to England.

However, those aged five to 17 they must take a test on arrival in England - before the end of day two at the latest (arrival day is day zero). 

From tomorrow, five to 17-year-olds must take a PCR test.

EXEMPTIONS

What if you are travelling from Ireland or other parts of the UK into England?

If you're travelling to England from within the UK, Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man, you do not need to complete a passenger locator form, take any Covid-19 tests or quarantine on arrival in England.

This only applies if you have not been outside of the UK, Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man in the ten days before the day you arrive in England. 

Are some people exempt from the restrictions because of their job?

Yes, if you do one of a series jobs listed here you may qualify for an exemption from one or more of the Covid-related travel restrictions.

These jobs include aircraft pilots and crew, BBC broadcasting transmission network and services roles, border security duties and coach drivers.

What if you are travelling abroad (outside the Common Travel Area) from England?

You should check foreign travel advice for all countries you will visit or travel through, to see if you will need to show proof of vaccination status or proof of a negative test and quarantine on arrival. The rules vary between countries.

For example, Switzerland has effectively 'red listed' Britain by subjecting arrivals to ten days of self-quarantine. Britons arriving in the country will have to show proof of full vaccination, a negative Covid test and then self-isolate. 

Spain also announced a ban on unvaccinated British tourists after Portugal said it would demand proof of a negative test even for double-jabbed visitors.

RED LIST 

Does the red list still apply?

Yes, there are different rules if you have been in a red list country or territory in the ten days before you arrive in England. Red list rules apply whether you are fully vaccinated or not.

What countries are on the red list?

Ten African countries have been added to the UK's red list since Friday.

South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe moved onto the red list at 12pm last Friday (November 26). 

Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia moved onto the red list at 4am yesterday (November 28).

Can you travel into England from a red list country?

Yes, but if you have been in a country or territory on the red list in the 10 days before you arrive in England, you will only be allowed to enter the UK if you either are a British or Irish National, or have residence rights in the UK.

What must you do before you travel to England?

Take a Covid-19 lateral flow or PCR test in the three days before you travel to England; book a quarantine hotel package (see below), including two PCR tests and complete a passenger locator form.

What is the cost of a quarantine hotel package?

One adult in one room for ten days (11 nights) is £2,285. The additional rate for one adult (or child over 11) is £1,430, while the additional rate for a child aged 5 to 11 is £325. You do not have to pay for children under five, but they must also complete the quarantine. 

FACE MASKS 

Face coverings will be made compulsory on public transport and in shops, banks and hairdressers - but not in pubs and restaurants. 

What will the new rules on face coverings be?

From 4am tomorrow, face coverings will be compulsory in shops and other retail settings such as banks, post offices and hairdressers, as well as on public transport.

What are the current rules - before 4am tomorrow?

As it stands, there are no rules on wearing face coverings in shops although some retailers ask that you do. On transport, there are also no rules apart from on the Transport for London network where they are mandatory. 

However, it is not illegal to travel on London transport without a mask - but you can be asked to leave the network if you are not wearing one.

Passengers wear face masks on a London Underground train on the morning commute today 

What will the fine be for non-compliance from tomorrow?

British Transport Police are expected to advise passengers on the new rules, but breaches could feasibly see £200 fines.

London TravelWatch has said the requirement will have to be 'properly enforced to give out the signal that the rules have changed'. 

Will exemptions on face coverings still apply?

Yes, all the normal exemptions for health and other reasons will still exist.

Will you have to wear a mask in pubs or restaurants?

No, the rules won't be extended to hospitality venues in England. Health Minister Edward Argar said this was for practical reasons, because you cannot eat or drink while wearing a mask.

A woman wearing a face mask walks past a couple at a Sainsbury's in Kent earlier this year

What about in schools?

The Department for Education has told schools and colleges in England that students in year 7 and above should wear face masks in communal areas.

The new guidance – which came into force today, unlike the other guidance on shops and public transport which begins at 4am tomorrow - says staff, visitors and pupils are 'strongly advised' to wear a face covering in communal areas, unless they are exempt.

However there is no guidance on pupils having to wear face masks once seated in their classroom. 

And what about universities? 

Department for Education guidance also states that face coverings should be worn by university students and staff in communal spaces and corridors. 

SELF-ISOLATING

People identified as contacts of suspected Omicron cases will have to isolate for ten days regardless of their vaccination status. 

Who do the new self-isolation rules apply to? 

All contacts of suspected Omicron cases must self-isolate, regardless of their vaccination status.

How will you know if you are a contact of a suspected Omicron case?

The Government says you will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace.

In order for officials to know when you have Omicron they need to genome sequence a positive test sample, which could take several days.

Currently, sample analysis is being targeted in areas where cases of the variant have been spotted. And everyone who has returned from southern Africa in the last fortnight has their test sequenced.

But there is already a suspicion that the strain is spreading domestically, so many cases might already be going missing.

And with around 44,000 Britons testing positive each day, it will be impossible for scientists to determine whether every positive sample is Omicron.

And due to the delay in confirming a positive PCR test, a person infected may have passed the virus on to a contact who does not find out until days later.

What does self-isolation actually mean?

You must not go to work, school or public places – and work from home if you can. You must not go on public transport or use taxis, or go out to get food and medicine.

You must also not have visitors in your home, including friends and family – except for people providing essential care. And you should not go out to exercise. 

The NHS advises people to exercise at home or in your garden, if you have one.

Could we be heading for another Pingdemic?

The Pingdemic over the summer was caused by people's NHS Covid-19 app 'pinging' them to say they had been in close contact with someone who has Covid-19.

This time, if Omicron causes a huge spike in numbers of cases, it could mean large numbers of people are again stuck at home in what may be branded 'Pingdemic 2.0'.

WHAT NEXT? 

How long will the new rules last?

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said the measures will be reviewed in three weeks, which would be the last Saturday before Christmas.

Could the restrictions get tougher?

The first ministers of Scotland and Wales today called on Boris Johnson to extend self-isolation rules for all UK arrivals from two to eight days — as Scotland confirmed six cases of the Omicron variant including some with no links abroad.

Nicola Sturgeon said Scots should start working from home immediately to curb the spread of the virus in a warning sign that England could soon face more restrictions.

Surge testing will also be deployed in areas of Scotland where the super-strain has been detected amid fears it could already be transmitting in the community.

Ms Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford have asked for an emergency Cobra meeting to come up with a 'tougher four nations approach' to control the spread of the variant.