New rules introduced today in bid to stop Omicron spread

face mask wearing

Shoppers will be required to wear a mask in shops and on public transport from today. - Credit: Archant 2020

New rules around mask-wearing and travel are introduced from today, as the government attempts to stop the spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus.

Shoppers will be required to wear a mask in stores and on public transport and those arriving in the UK from abroad will now have to take a PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result.

All those who have come into contact with someone who has the Omicron variant will also have to self-isolate for ten days.

It comes after the UK reported 11 cases of the new variant, with health secretary Sajid Javid expecting cases to rise in the coming days.

Early evidence suggests Omicron - first found in southern Africa - has a higher re-infection risk. But scientists say it will take about three weeks before it is known how it impacts on the effectiveness of vaccines.

Omicron has also prompted a change in who can get the booster jab, with all over-18s set to be offered the third jab, while children aged between 12 to 15 will be invited for a second jab.

There will still be some prioritisation however to ensure the elderly and vulnerable receive their top-up shots first, as was the case with the original scheme.

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The rule changes began at 4am this morning. However those entering hospitality and entertainment venues will still not be legally required to wear a face covering as the sector receives an exemption from the rules.

New measures will be reviewed every three weeks, with the health secretary telling MPs they would be given a chance to debate and vote on the rule changes on masks and self-isolation.

Mr Javid said: "If it emerges that this variant is no more dangerous than the Delta variant, then we won't keep measures in place for a day longer than necessary.

"Our experience of fighting this virus has shown us it's best to act decisively and swiftly when we see a potential threat. Which is why we're building our defences and putting these measures in place without delay."