Boris Johnson’s government has reinstated face mask restrictions in some settings to stem the spread of the new Omicron variant of Covid-19 as it continues to spread and overall case numbers continue to rise.
The Prime Minister first announced the news at a press conference on Saturday November 27, also saying booster vaccines would soon be available for younger adults and the interval between the second and third vaccinations would be reduced from two to three months, according to expert advice.
As Omicron began to establish its presence in the UK, Mr Johnson was forced to tighten the rules a second time on Wednesday December 8 when he gave a second press conference at Downing Street, in which he outlined further measures to contain the announced spread.
In his first address, the Prime Minister said face coverings would become compulsory again in shops and on public transport in England.
Government guidelines issued the following day added that people will have to wear them to other places “such as banks, post offices and hairdressers” from 4am Tuesday and that schools are “strongly recommended” to ensure that students from the seventh grade upwards as well as staff and visitors, wear face coverings in common areas.
In its second announcement, this was extended to cinemas, theaters and places of worship, but not restaurants and pubs, with an exception being made to allow for eating and drinking (and singing, an interesting gray area).
Mr Johnson’s December 8 speech also revealed that work from home orders would be in effect from Monday December 13 and that NHS Covid passes for access to crowded public places will be available from the following Wednesday Venues would be required.
All of this has now come after MPs voted to adopt it on Tuesday 14 December, not without a significant Tory revolt over the so-called vaccination passports.
The Prime Minister has stressed that the new measures are “temporary and precautionary” and will be reviewed.
Scientists and experts around the world say they don’t yet have enough “real world” data to make an accurate assessment of just how dangerous Omicron is, but it’s thought to be more transmissible than the Delta variant , which is still the dominant strain in the UK.
The UK has so far recorded 246,780 confirmed cases of the strain and at least 75 deaths, prompting ongoing fears tighter social restrictions could soon be imposed on the British public.
The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan declared a serious incident ahead of Christmas over the scale of the Omicron outbreak in the capital, while NHS England announced a return to its highest level of emergency preparedness, level four national incident, meaning that the health service response being coordinated as a national effort rather than being led by individual trusts.
Since then, the UK has continued to experience extremely high Covid infection rates over the festive period, with the total number of daily cases in England rising to a pandemic peak of 218,724 on January 4, according to the UK Health Security Agency.
The Government’s Joint Vaccination and Immunization Committee has issued new guidelines to extend the introduction of Covid booster vaccinations to younger adults, with the campaign continuing to be seen as an integral part.
While the launch of the vaccine in the UK was nothing short of a triumph over the calendar year, fears remain that immunity is weakening, with only 60.6 percent of the UK adult population having received their third dose to date.
The new target of offering every British citizen over the age of 18 a third boost is seen as extremely necessary in the circumstances, even if it means putting additional pressure on the NHS.
Increased reporting of the need for a refresher has already caused the NHS booking website to crash due to heavy demand and queues forming around the block at walk-in vaccination centers and pharmacies offering the vaccine.
The UK initially added several more South African countries to its “red list” for travel to stop the spread, but has since reversed the move.