Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the Government was ‘nowhere near’ imposing new restrictions like working from home as he said masks would be mandatory in shops and on public transport from Tuesday
People should carry on planning for Christmas as normal and the UK is “nowhere near” imposing further lockdown restrictions, Sajid Javid has said.
The Health Secretary sought to quell rising fears over the new Omicron variant after two cases were detected in England.
Mr Javid said masks would become mandatory in shops and on public transport from Tuesday in England, with all international arrivals told to take PCR tests and isolate until they receive the result.
All contacts with a suspected case of Omicron will have to isolate for 10 days – even if they are double jabbed – as there are fears the new strain may be able to evade existing vaccines.
Mr Javid said the Government hoped these changes would be “temporary” and said people should plan for Christmas as “normal”.
He told Sky’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday: “I think it’s fair to say that the nature of this pandemic is it would be irresponsible to make guarantees.
“As for Christmas, I think people should continue with their plans as normal for Christmas.
“I think it’s going to be a great Christmas.”
Asked if the Government would introduce working from home or social distancing measures, he said: “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.
“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.”
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has been asked to look at extending the booster programme to under-40s, with advice expected within the next few days.
Boris Johnson set out the changes at a hastily-arranged Downing Street press conference on Saturday but he was criticised for being too vague on the details.
The PM has resisted imposing “plan B” of the Government’s Covid winter plan, which also includes ordering people to work from home if possible and vaccine passports.
The new restrictions are due to be laid before Parliament on Monday, with a vote for MPs within 28 days.
Lockdown-sceptic Tories may stage a rebellion but it is unlikely to success as Labour usually supports the Government on Covid restrictions.
However Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy said the party wants the Government to “tighten up” travel restrictions.
She said questions remain around the scientific advice provided on mask wearing, the “very little action on ventilation in public buildings” and questions on travel restrictions.
Ms Nandy said: “The Government is saying everyone has to have a PCR test on day two when they arrive back in the UK, but they’re not suggesting pre-departure tests for people before they board flights.
“There’s no advice for people about travelling back from the airport on public transport and there are very few checks on the PCR tests that are done. So, these are all things that for months the Government has been warned about.”
But the doctor who discovered the Omicron variant said the UK was “panicking unnecessarily” and that the symptoms are “extremely mild”.
Dr Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association, said she first encountered the variant in a man in his early 30s who presented with tiredness and a mild headache but none of the usual Covid symptoms.
She told the BBC: “What we are seeing clinically in south Africa, and remember I’m at the epicentre – that’s where I’m practising – it’s extremely mild. For us, that’s mild cases.”
When asked if the UK was “panicking unnecessarily”, she said: “I think you already have it there in your country and you’re not knowing it, and I would say, yes, at this stage I would say definitely.
“Two weeks from now maybe we will say something different.”