Sajid javid assured last night that no new restrictions on travel and masks will be extended for ‘a single day’ longer than they are necessary. Labour and SNP called for stronger curbs.
The Health Secretary supported the decision to reinstate Covid restrictions and said that they were appropriate to the threat posed by the Omicron strain.
From today it will be mandatory to wear a face mask in shops and on public transport, with fines of £200.
Anybody identified as the contact for someone who has tested positive for the virus will have to isolate themselves from their surroundings for at least ten days. This is even though they may be fully vaccinated. Travellers returning from overseas will have to be isolated at home for three days until they receive a positive PCR test.
The Health Secretary supported the decision to reinstate Covid restrictions and said that they were appropriate to the new Omicron threat.
While the initial rules will be in effect for 3 weeks, Whitehall sources confirmed last night that they are likely to last into next year.
Yesterday, Labour and SNP called for Boris Johnson’s tougher restrictions. Nicola Sturgeon of Scotland and Mark Drakeford from Wales said that travelers should be made to isolate for at most eight days. This was regardless of whether they have been vaccinated or were originally from.
According to the leaders, the best and most secure way to stop the importation is through public health advice.
Miss Sturgeon stated that she hoped for the best but should be prepared for anything. Leaders are encouraging workers to use the internet. They also demanded Treasury assurances that their furlough programs would be financially supported if they were to shut down businesses.
In England, Labour demanded that all pubs and restaurants must have masks.
Downing Street did not support the idea of extending self-isolation to travel. Official spokesman for the PM stated: “We feel our approach is proportionate considering what evidence we have.” The travel industry and those planning to travel would be adversely affected if further testing and isolation were introduced.
No 10, however, rejected the notion of requiring office workers to return home. It was something that employers should decide. Minister Javid stated that they were cautious about taking action that might further harm the already-scarce hospitality industry.
He tried to assure MPs that the precautionary measures were taken to allow scientists enough time to analyze the Omicron threat.
According to him, the variant could have given the virus a leg up in the battle for the vaccines. However, he said that it was possible for this variant to be no more hazardous than the Delta one. In such a case we would not keep any measures in place longer than needed.
According to Mr Javid, hospitalizations are ‘what really matters’ when determining whether additional measures are necessary.
Alun Cairns, former Welsh Secretary, said that the government was correct to decline calls for harsher measures. He stated that many of these had been in place since summer in Wales, but infection rates remain much higher.
Today’s new rules were in effect at 4:05 AM and will be maintained until December 21.
The regulations will go to MPs tonight. However, ministers should be ready for any rebellion by Tory MPs against the return of restrictions.
Pictured: Today’s new coronavirus regulations in England are being implemented to stop the Omicron variant spreading.
Nothing in this variation has impressed me enough to warrant Britain’s harsh response.
Commentary by Dr Angelique Koetzee
Being the chairperson of South African Medical Association, and being a 33-year-old GP, I’ve seen many things in my 34 years of medical practice.
However, nothing prepared me for this extraordinary worldwide reaction to my news that I had just seen a young male in my clinic with a Covid case that was the Omicron variety.
The same virus has circulated in Southern Africa since it was first identified in Botswana.
However, because of my public-facing position, when I announced its existence in my patient, it was unwittingly made known to the world.
Quite simply, I have been stunned at the response – and especially from Britain.
To be honest, I don’t know anything about the new variant that justifies the extreme response the UK government took.
There is no evidence that anyone from South Africa was hospitalized with Omicron or is believed to have become seriously ill.
However, Britain and the other European countries have taken strong measures to restrict travel from southern Africa. They also imposed stricter restrictions at home regarding mask-wearing and fines.
We don’t have enough information about Omicron yet to be able to judge or impose policies.
South Africa is able to maintain a sense of perspective. Because we are still waiting to find out what this variant means, there have been no regulations and talk about lockdowns.
There was nothing that could have prepared me for this extraordinary worldwide reaction to my news that I had treated a young male in my clinic with a severe case of Covid. It turned out that it was the Omicron variant.
New Covid variations are something we’re used to. Nobody was surprised when scientists discovered yet another variant of Covid. It was not something that many people noticed.
After Britain learned about the issue, global trends began to shift.
While our scientists were trying to identify the large gaps in knowledge, European nations unilaterally ban travel from this region of the world.
The government felt understandably upset by the situation and pointed out that excellence in science should be celebrated, not punished.
Omicron, if it turns out that Omicron is a virus rapidly spreading with mild symptoms in the majority of those who are affected, would represent a significant step towards herd immunity.
In the next 2 weeks, we will find out if this is true.
Even though our scientists attempted to highlight the vast gaps in world knowledge regarding this variant, European countries unilaterally prohibited travel from that part of the globe (stock photo).
The worst situation – of course – would be a fast-spreading virus with severe infections. We are not in that situation at the moment.
My GP colleagues and I are not seeing the UK’s knee-jerk reactions.
For one thing, we’re not – at least for now – treating patients who are severely ill.
Let’s take my Omicron first case. The young man that I spoke of earlier. His first Omicron case was the young man I mentioned earlier. He was positive for Covid, as were his wife and their four-month-old child.
So far, the patients who’ve tested positive for Omicron here have been mainly young men – a mixture of vaccinated and unvaccinated (though, in our statistics, ‘unvaccinated’ can also mean ‘single-vaccinated’).
Yesterday, five additional patients tested positive for this variant. All of them had mild illnesses.
At the moment I fear that Britain is just exaggerating the danger of this variant.
It is possible that the future picture will look very different. For example, I have not yet seen older people unvaccinated with this new variant. They might be more severely affected.
The reality is, Covid is something that we must learn to accept. Take care of yourself, and make sure you get the vaccines. Above all, don’t panic – and that goes for governments as well.
■ South African Medical Association Chair Dr. Coetzee