The Chief Scientific Advisor said the public may need to “face up” to more restrictions if the Omicron variant spreads very quickly
More restriction could be needed to tackle the Omicron Covid-19 variant if it is found to spread very quickly, Sir Patrick Vallance has warned.
Boris Johnson announced the return of mandatory face masks in shops and public transport, tighter restrictions on arrivals in the UK and 10 day self-isolation for anyone who has been in contact with a suspected Omicron case.
But Sir Patrick warned that might not be enough to tackle the new variant, first identified in southern Africa this week, if it is very transmissible.
He told the Downing Street press conference: “I think we’ll get more information on transmissibility, we’ll get more information on the ability of the vaccines to protect against the virus, but that’s going to take a little bit of time.
“At the moment, the models are more ‘if it spreads very fast, of course it’s going to spread very fast and go into a lot of places, and if it spreads less fast it’s going to do so less’.
“But if it’s very transmissible and does cause big escape, then clearly that’s a major issue we have to face up to.
“But that isn’t what we know at the moment, we need to get that information.”
The PM warned the new variant, seen for the first time on Tuesday in southern Africa, spreads more easily, and could be more resistant to vaccinations – even spreading betwen two double vaccinated people.
The Prime Minister opened a Number 10 press conference by saying: “Apologies for disturbing your Saturday.”
He said face covering rules in shops and on public transport would be “tightened up”.
He later clarified this would mean “you have to wear them” in retail settings or on public transport, but that Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, would give more detail “in the course of the next day or so.”
The official Number 10 Twitter account then clarified this would not include hospitality settings like pubs and restaurants.
And people who have been in contact with people suspected of having the Omicron variant will have to self-isolate for ten days, regardless of their vaccine status.
He also announced all arrivals in the UK would have to take a PCR test by day two after entering the country, and isolate until their results are in.
“We’re not going to stop people travelling, I want to stress that, we’re not going to stop people travelling, but we will require anyone who enters the UK to take a PCR test by the end of the second day after their arrival and to self-isolate until they have a negative result,” he said.
“Second, we need to slow down the spread of this variant here in the UK, because measures at the border can only ever minimise and delay the arrival of a new variant rather than stop it all together.
“We will require all contacts of those who test positive with a suspected case of Omicron to self-isolate for 10 days regardless of your vaccination status.
“We will also go further in asking all of you to help contain the spread of this variant by tightening up the rules on face coverings in shops and on public transport.”
And he said the government would “boost the booster campaign”, in a bid to fight the variant.
He said: “We don’t yet exactly know how effective our vaccines will be against Omicron but we have good reasons for believing they will provide at least some measure of protection.
“If you’re boosted, your response is likely to be stronger so it’s more vital than ever that people get their jabs and we get those boosters into arms as fast as possible.”
The PM said all the new measures would be temporary and reviewed in three weeks.