All Britons over the age of 18 were today made eligible for Covid booster vaccines as ministers try to shield against an incoming wave of the Omicron variant — as more cases of the super strain were detected in Scotland and England.
The gap between second and third doses has also been chopped in half to three months with Professor Jonathan Van-Tam claiming that boosters had ‘never been more urgent’.
Today’s expansion means 50million Britons are now eligible for booster doses. Official data shows 17.5million have got their top-up jabs so far.
Boris Johnson’s official spokesman admitted that the definition of ‘fully vaccinated’ might have to be updated to include three doses, saying the Government was keeping it ‘under review’.
The top-up drive will prioritise people based on their age so that those who are most vulnerable will be able to get their jab first. Previously, the roll out was only open to over-40s.
Professor Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, admitted it was likely that Omicron would make vaccines less effective. But he said it was not all ‘doom and gloom’ because it was likely to have less of an impact on hospitalisation and death.
Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, said the booster programme had been put ‘on steroids’ as the main line of defence against the worrying new variant that is believed to be more infectious and vaccine resistant than Delta.
Delivering an update on the strain in the Commons today, he claimed that if the variant proves to be no more dangerous than Delta then ‘we won’t keep measures in place for a day longer than necessary’.
Some experts have claimed that Omicron might be so optimised for infecting people that it is less lethal than previous strains, and South African doctors say patients with the mutant virus appear to have much milder symptoms.
From 4am tomorrow, face masks are to become compulsory in shops, public transport, hairdressers and beauty salons — with secondary schools also advised to enforce them in corridors and canteens.
It came as Britain’s Covid outbreak shrank by every measure. The Department of Health said there were Covid cases fell five per cent in a week after another 42,583 positive tests were registered. Latest hospitalisations fell 12 per cent, and deaths dropped by a fifth.
Everyone will be offeredor as a booster dose, even if they were originally vaccinated with .
Those aged 12 to 15 years old will also be able to get their second Covid jab for the first time.
And immunocompromised patients who were given three vaccine doses as part of their primary course are set to be offered a fourth booster dose.
It came as two more Omicron cases were confirmed in London — in Wandsworth and Camden —, both with links to travel from South Africa.
It means 11 infections have been detected in Britain to date, as labs probe up to 225 ‘possible’ cases. Six cases were announced in Scotland this morning but ‘some’ had no links to travel, suggesting the mutant strain may already be spreading in the UK.
No10 experts fear the highly evolved Omicron strain, already thought to be spreading domestically, may ‘significantly’ reduce the effectiveness of two vaccine doses.
But they hope the extremely high protection offered by boosters will broaden immunity against the new strain.
The Prime Minister today rejected calls from Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford to tighten up the UK’s response to Omicron further arguing the initial response to the variant is correct and will be reviewed in three weeks.
The two first ministers of Scotland and Wales had demanded Covid self-isolation rules be extended from two to eight days to curb the spread of the virus, and called for a COBRA meeting to thrash out a four nations approach.
It came as two new infections with the Omicron variant were confirmed today in Wandsworth and Camden, both based in London. It means some 11 infections with the mutant strain have been spotted in the country to date
Pictured from left to right Professor Wei Shen Lim, head of the JCVI which design Britain’s roll out, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, and Dr June Raine, the head of the MHRA
Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, said the booster programme had been put ‘on steroids’ as the main line of defence against the worrying new variant that is believed to be more infectious and vaccine resistant than Delta
Professor Van-Tam told a Downing Street press briefing it was not all ‘doom and gloom’ and that boosters should still trigger protection against hospitalisation and death from the new variant.
But he added the sheer number of mutations on the virus meant it was ‘likely’ to signficantly reduce vaccines ability to prevent infections.
Professor Van-Tam said: ‘On the effects of the new variants, and how well vaccine effectiveness will hold up, here I want to be clear that this is not all doom and gloom at this stage.
‘I do not want people to panic at this stage. If vaccine effectiveness is reduced, as seems pretty likely to some extent, the biggest effects are likely to be in preventing infections and, hopefully, there will be smaller effects on preventing severe disease.’
What are the new Covid rules in England in response to the Omicron variant?
– Face masks will once again be compulsory in certain settings, including shops, public transport, hairdressers and beauty salons as of 4am on Tuesday.
– Staff, visitors and pupils in Year 7 and above are being advised to wear face masks in school communal areas like corridors and canteens. The same advice applies to colleges and universities.
– Fully-vaccinated travellers who enter the UK must take a PCR test by the end of the second day after their arrival. They can leave self-isolation once they test negative. There is no change for people who are not fully-vaccinated – they still have to spend 10 days in self-isolation.
– Unvaccinated arrivals need to do a ‘fit to fly test’ three days before arriving in the UK and quarantine for 10 days. They also must take a Day 2 and Day 8 PCR test before coming out of isolation.
– People who are identified as a contact of a suspected case of the Omicron variant must self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status. Samples are being collected and analysed from everyone who has returned from southern Africa in the last fortnight and their contacts are being traced.
– The latest rules will be reviewed in three weeks’ time.
Professor Van-Tam likened the battle against the virus to a football match.
He said the UK initially had 11 players to fight off the Wuhan virus following the rolling out of vaccines.
The emergence of Alpha and Delta led to some injuries, he added, but that Omicron was like receiving a couple of yellow cards to key players.
He said: ‘We may be OK but we’re kind of starting to feel at risk that we might go down to 10 players and if that happens — or it’s a risk that’s going to happen — then we need everyone on the pitch to up their game in the meantime.’
Professor Wei Shen-Lim, the chair of Britain’s Covid vaccine advisory panel the JCVI, told the briefing they were extending boosters to younger age groups to protect against infections and the Omicron variant.
He said: ‘Viruses develop variants that are different to the original virus increase the likelihood of a mismatch between the vaccine on the one hand and the variant on the other hand
‘The larger the mismatch between vaccine and variant the greater the likelihood that the level of protection provided by the vaccine will be lowered
‘From what we know about the variant [Omicron] so far it may be that the vaccines that we have at the moment may be less good than against the current circulating delta variant.
‘One way of reducing the impact of this mismatch between vaccine and variant is to increase the strength of the immune response provided by this currency vaccine.
‘In other words, if we can raise the level of the immune response generated by this current vaccine that higher level of immune response will reach out and provide extra protection to mismatched variants.’
He said they were slashing the time between second dose and booster shot from six months to three to ensure people had the best possible protection before a potential winter wave.
He said: ‘With any vaccine during a pandemic we get the greatest benefit of the vaccine both for individuals and society if the vaccine is deployed before the wave starts.
‘If we deploy a vaccine in the middle of a wave or even after the peak of a wave then the benefit from the vaccine is much lower. We therefore want to provide boosters early enough such that it is before any possible wave.
He added: ‘I am not here predicting there will be a wave of the new variant but should there be a wave we want to be in the best possible position.’
He urged anyone who is already eligible for a booster to get the jab to protect themselves and their families from the virus.
There have been nine cases of the Omicron variant reported in Britain, and scientists are concerned that it has mutations linked with higher transmissibility and a possible reduction in the effectiveness of vaccines.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday had instructed the JCVI to review the booster programme urgently given the evolving situation with Omicron after the first cases of the variant were reported.
Though Johnson’s government controls health policy in England alone, JCVI has informed the rollout of Covid vaccines in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The panel reiterated that Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccine were the preferred vaccines to use in booster shots.
Of the two new cases spotted in London, one was identified in Camden and the other in Wandsworth.
It comes as the Prime Minister’s spokesman said it was safe for people in England to go into the office, as people in other UK nations were urged to work from home to curb the spread of the new coronavirus variant.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Monday reminded people to ‘work from home if possible’, as six cases were confirmed there. The advice is the same in Northern Ireland.
In Wales, working from home is encouraged under current guidance.
Now large-scale Christmas parties are CANCELLED: Big City firms say festive bashes are off for the second year running
UK firms are cancelling massparties as fears mount over the new Omicron variant — as the UK hospitality industry said bookings were being scrapped and plans changed due to the ‘chilling’ talk of Plan B.
The emergence of the newstrain has forced companies to scrap parties for large numbers of people, turning instead to smaller departmental gatherings as the pandemic threatens the festive season for a second year.
Law firm Osborne Clarke insaid they were now opting for ‘low key festivities’ rather than ‘big shindigs’.
The firm’s managing partner Ray Berg told MailOnline: ‘We asked our people and their preference is for local team-level celebrations, so we’re opting for low key festivities rather than big shindigs this year.
‘Given the emergence of a new variant I think we made the right call, no one wants to have a second lockdown Christmas.’
And while the UK’s hospitality sector said businesses recovering from the pandemic had ‘invested heavily’ in making their venues safe for the public with measures including ventilation, hygiene and sanitation, events planners said the Omicron variant was causing concern.
One senior events planner in London said they were now ‘on the cusp’ of clients stalling with balance payments for New Year’s parties.
On Monday the PM’s spokesman said it was up to employers to decide on the ‘right balance’ for them, when it came to whether staff worked from home or the office.
Jurisdiction over coronavirus restrictions is devolved, meaning Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s policies apply to England, and may differ from the rules elsewhere in the UK.
Asked whether employers were still being encouraged to get people back into the office, the PM’s spokesman said: ‘Our position has not altered from what it was previously.
‘We (are) obviously keeping the evidence of this variant under review and we will take action if necessary, but currently we don’t think there are any other changes required.’
He added: ‘In line with the guidance, we’ve said that it is safe for people to return to work. It is up to individual employers to decide what is the right balance for (them).’
Asked if the Government viewed Scotland’s decision to ask people to work from home as disproportionate, the spokesman said: ‘It’s up (to) the Scottish government to decide what approach they think is suitable.’
Sajid Javid failed to rule out any future lockdown when urged to do so by a Tory MP, but insisted putting the ‘booster programme on steroids’ is the main form of defence.
Richard Drax (South Dorset) told the Health Secretary: ‘None of us underplayed the threat of any new variant and, as (Mr Javid) said today, Covid is not going to go away. It’s not, it’s here for the rest of our lives.
‘The country is learning to live with this disease, it is the only way forward.
‘Can he please reassure me, the House and the country that he will never, ever go back to locking this country down?’
Mr Javid replied: ‘No-one wants to see those kinds of measures, but (Mr Drax) I’m sure will agree with me that, first let me agree with him that Covid is with us to stay and we need to learn to live with it, and the best way I think we can do that is with the primary form of defence that we’ve got, which is our vaccination programme, and I hope he agrees with me that we’re absolutely right to basically put the booster programme on steroids because that will really help us.’
Conservative backbencher Sir Desmond Swayne suggested wearing face coverings to provide protection from the virus is ‘mumbo jumbo’.
He told the Commons: ‘Over the last few months there has been a useful controlled experiment on face coverings given the different policies pursued in Scotland and England. What estimate has he made of the result? It’s mumbo jumbo isn’t it?’
The Health Secretary said that if Sir Desmond ‘is suggesting that there are mixed views on the efficacy of face coverings in helping to fight this pandemic, he would be right’.
But he said there are reports which show ‘in certain settings how face coverings can help’.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 listedyou 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.
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 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.
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’.
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.
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