Cambridge MP welcomes reintroduction of masks in shops and on public transport as Omicron variant reaches UK
Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner has welcomed the government’s decision to order the return of masks in shops and public transport in the wake of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 reaching the UK.
On Sunday, the Department for Education also told schools that pupils in Year 7 and above, along with staff and visitors, should wear face coverings in communal areas.
All contacts with a suspected case of Omicron will also have to isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status.
The measures come amid concerns that existing Covid-19 vaccines will be less effective against the highly mutated variant, which is believed to spread rapidly.
Two cases of Omicron were initially confirmed in Nottingham and Brentwood, Essex, with both linked to travel to southern Africa. A third case was also identified on Sunday. The individual is no longer in the UK but is known to have visited Westminster in London.
Health secretary Sajid Javid confirmed on Sunday that mandatory mask-wearing in shops and on public transport will begin on Tuesday, bringing England into line with measures already in place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. However, masks will not be required in pubs and restaurants.
Meanwhile, passengers arriving in the UK will, from 4am on Tuesday, have to take a PCR test for Covid-19 by the second day of their arrival and should self-isolate until they test negative.
Mr Javid said it “would be irresponsible to make guarantees”, but told Sky’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday: “I think people should continue with their plans as normal for Christmas. I think it’s going to be a great Christmas.”
The government has stopped short of introducing its Plan B to tackle Covid-19, and has yet to reintroduce social distancing rules or work from home guidance.
“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,” he told Sky.
“So if one was to make decisions like that they would have to be done very, very carefully and we’re not there yet, we’re nowhere near that.”
Responding to the announcement on mandatory mask-wearing in shops and on public transport, Cambridge’s Labour MP Daniel Zeichner said: “This is one U-turn I’m behind. The new variant is on the march so let’s do all we can to keep each other as safe as possible.
“This can’t be a standalone measure though, we need the government to go further and faster on booster jabs and do those fundamental things that I, and my Labour colleagues, have been calling for over months, including fixing sick pay and ventilation.”
The Prime Minister said on Saturday that the “temporary and precautionary” measures will be reviewed in three weeks, while the government’s vaccine experts will be tasked with considering whether to extend booster jabs to all over-18s.
He said Omicron, designated a variant of concern by the World Health Organisation, appears to spread “very rapidly”, can transmit between the double-vaccinated and may partially reduce the protection of existing vaccines.
Travel restrictions are also being introduced for Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola, which join South Africa and five other neighbouring nations on UK red lists.
But Mr Johnson warned border measures can “only ever minimise and delay the arrival of a new variant rather than stop it all together”,
The UK Health Security Agency confirmed the two Omicron cases in England on Saturday following overnight sequencing. Genomic surveillance of Covid-19 variants is carried out in the UK by the Cambridge-led COG-UK Consortium.
Following the results, the individuals and their households were ordered into self-isolation and targeted testing is being carried out in areas where they are thought to have been infectious.
The Prime Minister said he was “confident” this Christmas “will be considerably better than the last”.
Wary that some on the Conservative backbenches may be angered by the move, Mr Johnson said: “I very much hope that we will find that we continue to be in a strong position and we can lift these measures again, but right now this is the responsible course of action to slow down the seeding and the spread of this new variant and to maximise our defences so that we protect the gains we’ve worked for so hard.”
MPs are expected to be given a vote to approve the measures after they come into force, during which a number of backbench Tories may stage a rebellion. But it is thought unlikely Labour would oppose the restrictions, which virtually guarantees that they will pass.
While the effectiveness of vaccines against Omicron is currently unclear, the Prime Minister said there are “good reasons for believing they will provide at least some measure of protection”.
Latest data shows Cambridgeshire had 3,139 cases of Covid-19 in the week to November 21, up 495 (18.7 per cent) on the previous week, taking the infection rate to 477.6 cases per 100,000 people.
Meanwhile, large-scale vaccination centres across Cambridgeshire - with the exception of Chesterton Indoor Bowls Club - will extend their walk-in service to those seeking boosters and those aged 16 to 17 in need of their second jab.