Over-60s and vulnerable people have been advised by the World Health Organisation to postpone travel amid fears of the new Omicron coronavirus variant, throwing thousands of Christmas plans into potential jeopardy.

The WHO statement read: “Persons who are unwell or at risk of developing severe COVID-19 disease and dying, including people 60 years of age or older or those with comorbidities (e.g. heart disease, cancer and diabetes), should be advised to postpone travel.”

The announcement came after a total of 22 confirmed cases were discovered in the UK.

The government have begun to crack down on the new variant by making face coverings a requirement in shops, buses trains and trams. Masks must also be worn in hairdressers, nail salons, banks and post offices in England from 4am on November 30.

However, masks won't be required in the hospitality sector, meaning they aren't needed in restaurants and pubs, or by law in venues like concerts, cinemas and theatres.

Penalties of £200 will be handed to people in England who don't wear a face-covering as the government attempt a national crackdown on the Omicron Covid variant.

People who continually fail to comply with the rules will have their fine doubled with each offence, The Sun reports.

Boosters and second jabs now extended to millions more Brits and another Christmas lockdown hasn't been ruled out as a last resort.

Fears of another Christmas lockdown have been growing over the course of the last week as experts worry that history could repeat itself a year after the Alpha variant triggered a Christmas lockdown.

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Prof Adam Finn, of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, warned: "We all need to be ready for the possibility of a change in the restrictions."

The UK has also joined other countries in imposing a travel ban on South Africa.

However, blanket travel bans will not prevent the global spread of the Omicron variant, according to the WHO.

It added: “Blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods. In addition, they can adversely impact global health efforts during a pandemic by disincentivizing countries to report and share epidemiological and sequencing data.

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“All countries should ensure that the measures are regularly reviewed and updated when new evidence becomes available on the epidemiological and clinical characteristics of Omicron or any other VOC…

“Essential international travel –including travel for emergency and humanitarian missions, travel of essential personnel, repatriations and cargo transport of essential supplies–should continue to be prioritized at all times during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In addition, all travellers should be reminded to remain vigilant for signs and symptoms of COVID-19, to get vaccinated when it is their turn and to adhere to public health and social measures at all times and regardless of vaccination status, including by using masks appropriately, respecting physical distancing, following good respiratory etiquette and avoiding crowded and poorly ventilated spaces.”

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