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Mask wearing and travel testing to come into force on Tuesday

·4-min read
Mask wearing and travel testing to come into force on Tuesday

Sajid Javid has confirmed that the new mask wearing rules for shops and public transport will come into force on Tuesday.

Speaking on the Trevor Phillips on Sunday programme, the Health Secretary said the government was taking a “proportionate response” to the arrival in the Omicron variant in the UK.

On Saturday, two cases of the new variant of concern were confirmed in Nottingham and Essex.

To stop the spread of Omicron, the government has also announced new travel restrictions that will come into force on Tuesday.

Those entering the UK must book a PCR test on day two after arrival and self-isolate until they get a negative result.

Mr Javid said he hoped the extra measures will be “temporary”, adding he thinks people will “take this more seriously”.

Speaking about face coverings he said: “I hope this is something that we can remove within weeks.

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

He said it “would be irresponsible to make guarantees” during the ever-changing pandemic, but told Mr Phillips: “I think people should continue with their plans as normal for Christmas, I think it’s going to be a great Christmas.”

With the Government stopping short of introducing its Plan B to tackle Covid-19 this winter, Mr Javid downplayed there being a need to reintroduce social distancing rules or work from home guidance.

“We know now those types of measures do carry a very heavy price, both economically, socially, in terms of non-Covid health outcomes such as impact on mental health,” he said.

“So if one was to make decisions like that they would have to be done very, very carefully and we’re not there yet, we’re nowhere near that.”

On Saturday, Boris Johnson said face coverings would be reintroduced from next week after two cases of the Omicron variant of coronavirus were detected in the UK.

The rules surrounding face masks were relaxed in England in July.

The Prime Minister said hospitality will be exempt from the rule change.

Speaking at Downing Street Mr Johnson said: “On face coverings, 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.”

Experts are worried about the Omicron variant because it has a large number mutations which mean the current vaccines may not work against it.

The strain was first detected in South Africa and ten countries have been added to the red travel list.

These include South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola.

Reacting to the news that face coverings will again be mandatory in England, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham tweeted: “This is right but shows why they shouldn’t have been relaxed. It will now be harder, and take longer, to get levels of compliance up to where we need them to be.”

Nottingham Labour councillor Adele Williams said the city has been asking for rules around face masks to be put back in place for “some time”.

She tweeted: “At last government has seen fit to back coverings in crowded indoor settings. It was irresponsible to make it a matter of personal choice. We have been asking for a mask mandate for some time and we know Nottingham will mask up to stop the spread.”

Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said there was “no reason why” face coverings could not have been kept in place when the Government relaxed restrictions in July.

He said: “This flip-flopping on basic and sensible Covid measures and the different rules across the UK create confusion, reduce compliance and can lead to conflict.

“Retail staff working with the public every day are deeply worried about catching Covid-19 and the arrival of the Omicron variant is a further concern.

“Wearing a face covering protects others, it should not be a personal preference, but a personal responsibility.

“The Government must be clear and consistent on it being mandatory and that shopworkers are not expected to enforce the law on face coverings.

“We ask the public to follow the rules and respect shopworkers, abuse is not a part of their job. We continue to call on retail employers to maintain appropriate safety measures, ensuring they are followed consistently in every store.”

Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman said: “We are helping retailers to prepare for the change in face covering rules, but they are extremely concerned about abuse against their staff from customers who don’t want to wear a face covering in a shop.

“We will continue to urge stores to communicate the rules, but not to challenge those who refuse to abide by the rules.”

Carol Popplestone, chairwoman of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “This is something we have already called for and it should not have been a new variant that forced the Prime Minister to act.

“Nursing staff have already witnessed the devastating impact of delayed action and ministers must now be prepared to act immediately if further restrictions are needed.”

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