Sajid Javid insists that it will be Christmas as usual despite new Covid restrictions
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The Health Secretary told the nation to continue to plan for a “normal” festive season but admitted there are no guarantees. Scientific advisers indicated all adults will soon be eligible for a booster jab in the fight against the Omicron variant.
Mandatory mask-wearing in shops and public transport will come into force tomorrow.
Schools were told that face coverings should be worn in communal areas by staff, visitors and pupils in Year 7 and above.
Travellers arriving into the country from 4am tomorrow will be required to take a day two PCR test and self isolate until they have received a negative test result.
Anyone who comes into contact with a suspected case of Omicron will have to isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status.
But Mr Javid insisted “we’re nowhere near” reintroducing working from home or social distancing measures to combat coronavirus.
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.”
The Health Secretary advised: “I think people should continue with their plans as normal for Christmas, I think it’s going to be a great Christmas.”
Mr Javid is expecting to get advice on broadening the booster programme from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) “imminently”.
He said: “We know that vaccines work. Yes, this new variant may make it less effective or not. But the vaccines work, they are our first form of defence and that is why I have also asked our expert advisers on vaccines called JCVI to give me very quick advice on broadening our booster programme.”
Professor Anthony Harnden, JCVI deputy chairman, said: “Accelerating the booster programme, both by extending the age range and by reducing the interval between the second dose and the booster dose, will be a sensible strategy.”
The doctor who discovered the Omicron variant said the UK was “panicking unnecessarily”.
Dr Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association, said: “What we are seeing clinically in South Africa, and remember I’m at the epicentre – it’s extremely mild.”
But Professor Sir Mark Walport, chief executive of UK Research and Innovation, said it was too early to tell if the virus is milder.
He said: “The number of people is still quite small, and it’s a younger population, so there’s no reason to think that there’s going to be a milder disease.”
The UK has called an urgent meeting of G7 health ministers today to discuss the latest developments on Omicron.
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