TORY Health Secretary Sajid Javid has said face masks will be compulsory in shops and on public transport in England from tomorrow in response to the new Omicron variant.
It brings England in line with other parts of the UK. Tory PM Johnson has also announced that PCR tests would be required for all overseas arrivals.
Arrivals from 10 new red list countries will need to quarantine for 10 days.
On the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show yesterday morning it was put to Javid: ‘The travel restriction does not come into force until 4am on Tuesday. But then thousands more people will have arrived by plane into the UK. Why did you delay it?’
Javid replied: ‘There are two parts to the travel restrictions. The first part which is the red listing has come into effect today. The bit that you are talking , which is the requirement for all international travellers to self isolate until they get a negative PCR test result, that will come in as soon as possible.’
Marr suggested he was closing the stable door after the horse had already bolted, drawing attention to several big flights that have come to the UK from South Africa since Friday. He said that a couple of flights that landed in the Netherlands from South Africa with 600 on board had 61 testing positive for coronavirus.
Marr asked: ‘Did you test people on those flights as they came in from South Africa or not?’
Javid responded: ‘First of all they have all been contacted and told to isolate if they are positive.’
Marr asked: ‘How did they get home?’
Javid replied: ‘They would have got home in the normal way.’
Marr interjected: ‘On public transport? So to be clear: You did not test them as they came into Heathrow and then they were allowed to disperse around the country without being tested … and if the Dutch experience is anything to go by, 10% of them have the new variant of coronavirus!’
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, British Medical Association (BMA) council chair, said: ‘Given reports of two confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the UK, the reintroduction of mandatory mask wearing is sensible and the right thing to do.
‘However, in order for this measure to be fully effective it is important that the government extends this mandate to all public indoor and closed settings.
‘This includes the hospitality industry – such as for staff in restaurants and beauty salons – where the public tend to spend long periods of time in close contact with others.
‘The government must act now, or we risk seeing even more unnecessary deaths.’
Chair of the Royal College of Nursing Council, Carol Popplestone, said: ‘The tightening of the rules on face coverings must mean the reintroduction of mandatory face coverings now.
‘This is something we have already called for and it should not have been a new variant that forced the Prime Minister into action.
‘Nursing staff have already witnessed the devastating impact of delayed action and ministers must now be prepared to act immediately if further restrictions are needed.’
Transport union TSSA General Secretary, Manuel Cortes said: ‘It’s vitally important immediate precautionary steps are taken to do all we can to combat the spread of the new Omicron variant.’
Unite national officer for passenger transport, Bobby, said: ‘The government has got to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.
‘It is not sufficient to announce that face masks will once again become compulsory. This policy has got to be fully enforced in order to protect public health.
‘The government’s previous inconsistent messaging on face mask wearing is almost certainly going to result in a high degree of non-compliance.
‘Unite’s advice to bus drivers is clear. It is not their role to enforce mask wearing. Their responsibility is to safely drive and operate the bus. The job of enforcing mask wearing is that of the bus operator and the police.
‘Unite has consistently warned that the requirement to wear face masks should never have been removed while rates of Covid-19 remained high. It is only the arrival of the new variant which has forced the government to act.’
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘Given more workers may now need to self-isolate, we need to protect them from financial hardship. Ministers must raise sick pay to the level of the Living Wage and make sure every worker can get it.
‘No-one should have to choose between doing the right thing and putting food on the table.’