More details are emerging about England’s new Covid Plan B rules to fight the Omicron variant of the virus – with banks, post offices, shops, public transport and hairdressers all having compulsory face coverings from Tuesday
Face masks will be mandatory by law in England’s hairdressers, banks and post offices from tomorrow – but not pubs or restaurants.
More details have been emerging overnight about the mask mandate to fight the Omicron Covid variant – with offenders expected to face £200 fines.
Under the previous fine rules, repeat offenders saw their fines double each time – up to a maximum of £6,400.
Boris Johnson announced on Saturday that face coverings would once again be mandatory in shops and on public transport.
Last night Downing Street confirmed the list of venues – to be published in full later today – would also include hairdressers, banks and post offices. Exemptions will include medical reasons and kids.
But ministers have had to defend the decision not to enforce face coverings in pubs or restaurants, even crowded ones.
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Health Minister Edward Argar said people standing at the bar are often only there for a short time, and will then “sip a drink on the way back to their table, where they’ll be seated”.
Mr Argar insisted “It’s about striking a proportionate balance,” adding: “It’s in the nature of the venue. In a pub you’re drinking. You can’t do that if you’re wearing a mask.”
However, government guidance does advise people to wear masks in crowded indoor spaces, and take a lateral flow test before socialising with other people. Mr Argar said: “We’re not making it a legal requirement but people will make their own judgements.”
Restrictions are being tightened up this week after three cases of the Omicron variant were found in England and six in Scotland.
Mr Argar told Sky News: “I’ll be honest with you and your viewers, I would expect that to rise.
“We don’t know by what speed or what numbers so therefore what we’re doing is trying to slow it down, but we’re clear we can’t stop it.”
Yet Mr Argar also claimed he was “looking forward to a Christmas spent with family and friends”.
Asked if the Government might tighten up the rules even further in the next three weeks, Mr Argar said: “It’s not something I’m anticipating.”
Teachers and pupils in Year 7 and above are now being “strongly advised” to wear masks in communal areas outside classrooms in England.
Ten countries have been added to England’s red list, forcing all arrivals into hotel quarantine. They are Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
From 4am tomorrow, all travellers to the UK will have to take a paid-for PCR test on or before day two after their arrival, and isolate until the result comes back negative.
Meanwhile Covid booster jabs look set to be expanded to all over-18s in the UK, down from over-40s now. And the six-month minimum gap between second and third dose could be reduced.
Health Minister Edward Argar said he had not yet seen formal advice from the JCVI, but “I hope it will come hopefully later today.” He added: “We’d expect that within the coming hours.”
All contacts of suspected Omicron cases will also have to self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of whether they’re fully-vaccinated.
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner urged action on £96.35-a-week Statutory Sick Pay, which still hasn’t been given a boost despite the furlough scheme ending.
She told BBC Breakfast: “If people have to self-isolate or go off sick they have to be given sick pay, it’s one of the most crucial things we can do to ensure that everybody can do the right thing and protect people from this new variant.
“The booster jab should be given as quickly as possible, we said five months, hopefully that will happen now, and there should be ventilation in schools.
“People should be wearing masks, including the Prime Minister when he’s visiting public spaces indoors.”