Omicron: Sajid Javid responds to fears of December lockdown

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The Health Secretary said it is “right to respond” with stricter measures such as the re-introduction of mandatory mask-wearing in shops and public transport. Sajid Javid said the new policies will “buy us time” to fully assess the risk the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus poses to the UK. Speaking to Trevor Phillips, the Health Secretary said: “You ask me for guarantees and it’s fair to say the nature of this pandemic…it would be irresponsible to make guarantees. 

“But what I can tell you is the actions that we’ve taken, these proportionate and balanced actions, will buy us time.

“It will give us precious weeks that our scientists need to assess this variant.

“As for Christmas, I think people should continue with their planning.”

He added: “I think it’s going to be a great Christmas.”

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Mr Javid also said “we’re nowhere near” reintroducing working from home or social distancing measures to combat coronavirus.

He continued: “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.

“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.”

The Health Secretary expects to receive advice imminently on whether the government can broaden a booster jab programme to try to tackle the emergence of the newly identified Omicron coronavirus variant.

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“The other thing that still remains hugely important, but I think it’s fair to say now more important than it was before, is our vaccination programme,” he noted.

“That is why I have also asked our expert advisers on vaccines called JCVI (the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) to give me very quick advice on broadening, boosting our booster programme and I expect to get that advice imminently.”

The UK reported four cases of the Omicron variant on Saturday, 24 hours after all direct flights from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, and Namibia were banned over concerns for the new mutation of COVID-19.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the strengthening of England’s rules on Saturday, after two cases of Omicron were identified, in Nottingham and Brentwood, Essex, with both linked to travel to southern Africa.

Mr Johnson said the strain appears to spread “very rapidly”, can transmit between the double-vaccinated and may partially reduce the protection of existing vaccines.

Downing Street said compulsory mask-wearing will return in England’s shops and on public transport in the coming week, falling back into line with Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, but will not be required in pubs and restaurants.

To slow the “seeding” of the virus in the UK, Mr Johnson said anyone who enters the UK must take a PCR test by the end of the second day of their arrival and self-isolate until they receive a negative result.

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