Mask rules return in England due to Omicron COVID variant

Nov 30, 2021

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The British government has today reinstated mask mandates in an effort to stem the spread of the Omicron variant, the latest coronavirus mutation. From 30 November, it is required by law for people in England to wear face masks while in most public spaces.

Face coverings must be worn at:

  • shops
  • banks
  • salons
  • public transportation such as buses, taxis and trains, as well as hubs such as airports, rails and maritime ports.

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The return of the face masks mandate is designed to buy England time to figure out its plan to combat the growing threat the Omicron variant poses, according to Prime Minister Boris Johnson. “We’re going to be throwing everything at it,” Johnson said, according to the Associated Press. Johnson added that he knows citizens feel a “sense of exhaustion” from COVID restrictions, but stressed that it’s essential for people to behave cautiously and sensibly.

There are also new travel protocols for U.K. travellers.

Fully vaccinated visitors entering the U.K. must take a PCR test by the end of Day two after arrival and self-isolate until they receive a negative result. They must also complete a passenger locator form within 48 hours of arrival. The requirement of a PCR test means the short-lived era of the less-expensive lateral flow tests being accepted ahead of travel has – for now – come to an end. The government will review these new mandates in three weeks time.

Health officials say 22 cases of the Omicron variant have been identified across the U.K. That number is expected to rise. The new variant, which was discovered in South Africa, remains largely unknown. Scientists are not clear yet on how contagious it might be or how resistant it could be to current COVID vaccines.

Related: How the Omicron variant impacts travel to the U.K. right now

England will also expand its vaccine booster program, offering a dose to everyone 18 and up, three months after the second shot. This is expected to happen over the next two months. Britain has already delivered more than 18 million booster shots, and the change in advice makes another 14 million people eligible.

According to Prime Minister Johnson, the goal was to offer everyone a booster shot by the end of January.

Featured image by Leon Neal / Staff for Getty Images

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