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Face masks will once again be mandatory in shops and on public transport as the UK waits to see the impact of the arrival of the omicron variant, the health secretary has confirmed.
Following an announcement by prime minister Boris Johnson yesterday, November 27, Sajid Javid said that new measures involving more widespread face mask wearing will come into force on Tuesday, November 30.
The move comes after two linked cases of the new Covid-19 variant were discovered in the UK, a day after flights from several southern African countries were temporarily banned over concerns that the new variant may have a higher reinfection rate that the dominant delta variant.
‘Over the last few days…people will have been able to understand the concerns over this new variant,’ Javid told Sky News, adding that he hoped the new restrictions could be removed ‘within weeks.’
When asked whether mandatory mask wearing was enforceable, Javid said ‘I do think people will take this more seriously.’
The Conservative party has faced criticism from opposition figures who argue that mask wearing restrictions should never have been removed in the first place.
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.
In a press conference with Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Officer Patrick Vallance, Johnson also confirmed that other measures to limit the spread from recently-arrived passengers would be introduced, including mandatory PCR tests for all new arrivals.
Appearing on Sky‘s sunday morning politics show, Javid defended not implementing stricter measures, saying they would ‘carry a very heavy price, economically, socially, in terms of non-COVID health outcomes.’
While news of the variant has sparked fresh calls for restrictions, scientists have also stressed that more research is needed to understand the impact of the omicron variant, and that getting vaccinated remained the best way to contain any potential outbreak.
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