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27th Nov 2021

Boris Johnson announces raft of new measures as two cases of Omicron variant detected in UK

Steve Hopkins

The Prime Minister said mask-wearing rules would be tightened around shops and transport

Boris Johnson has said he is “pretty confident” this Christmas will be better than last year as he faced questions on the government’s plans to slow down the spread of the new Omicron Covid variant that was detected in the UK on Saturday.

The Prime Minister announced a raft of changes at a Downing Street press conference, but said the government is taking a precautionary approach because “we simply don’t yet know enough” about the variant that has been labelled “the worst we’ve seen yet”.

When asked about how the spread of Omicron could impact Christmas, Johnson said: “I’m pretty confident this Christmas will be better than last Christmas. That will do for the time being on this one.”

Amongst changes announces is the need for people to wear masks in shops and on public transport.

Day two PCR tests are back for international travellers and anyone who comes into close contact with someone who tests positive for Covid – with the new Omicron variant – to self-isolate, regardless of their jab status.

Johnson said the changes would be reassessed in three weeks’ time.

Speaking alongside Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific advisor to the government, and the UK’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty, Johnson said the government wanted to “slow down the seeding” of the variant into the UK to “buy time” for our scientists to know what we are “dealing with”, get more people vaccinated, and to ensure the NHS is prepared.

Johnson listed three ways the UK would do this:

  • Limit the number of cases that enter the country
  • Try to limit spread within the country
  • Bolster defences, including boosting vaccines to protect against the variant

As well as the announced measures, Johnson said the Health Secretary would be asked to consider giving boosters to as wide a group as possible and to reduce the gap between the second jab and the booster vaccine.

Speaking about Christmas, Sir Chris said people should raise a glass to the scientists who developed the vaccine because they are the reason this festive season will be a lot better than last year.

When asked if lockdowns could be ruled out, Sir Patrick said the UK simply does not have enough information to create modelling yet.

Johnson said “there’s nothing we’ve announced tonight that changes the position for hospitality”, reiterating that the UK is in a “much, much stronger” position than last year thanks to vaccines.

Read more: Two cases of Omicron variant detected in UK

Earlier on Saturday, Sajid Javid confirmed that two individuals were now self-isolating and there would be targeted testing in areas where the cases were discovered –  in Brentwood, Essex, and Nottingham – by the UK Health Security Agency after genomic sequencing.

The cases are linked and connected to travel in southern Africa, he said.

“This is a fast-moving situation and we are taking decisive steps to protect public health,” Javid wrote on Twitter.

He also announced that Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, and Angola would be added to the travel red list, effective 4am Sunday.

“We’ve always been very clear that we won’t hesitate to take further action if that is what is required.

“Today I can announce one thing that we are doing immediately is carrying out targeted testing and sequencing of positive cases in the two areas that are affected.”

On Friday, six countries were added to the UK’s red list after the discovery of Omicron – which was first detected in South Africa on 24 November – but is now in Belgium, Botswana, Hong Kong, Israel, as well as the UK.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said Omicron had many mutations – “some of which are concerning” – and early evidence suggested an increased reinfection risk. It had already been labelled the “worst one we’ve seen” and Transport Secretary Grant Schnapps said Friday that it had the potential to “defeat the jab”.