LONDON – In a bid to halt the spread of the omicron variant, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new measures on Saturday evening, ranging from testing anyone arriving in the United Kingdom to mandatory mask-wearing.
The initiatives, including significant entry rule changes made in response to the new variant, are a sign of how countries are reintroducing rules that many had thought were left behind.
Earlier in the day, the U.K. announced that two cases of the new coronavirus variant, first identified in South Africa, had been detected in the U.K. The cases are linked and connected with travel to southern Africa.
Speaking at an evening news conference at 10 Downing Street, Johnson said that anyone entering the country will be asked to take a PCR test on their second day and that they had to self isolate until they provided a negative test. He also said that those who do come into contact with someone testing positive for omicron will have to self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccine status.
Face coverings on public transport and in shops will now be mandatory in England after they were controversially scrapped in July.
The new coronavirus variant, known as omicron, may, “at least, in part, reduce the protection of our vaccines over time,” said the prime minister. The new rules, which will be reviewed in three weeks, will help to “buy time” for scientists to better understand the variant.
The U.K. also added four new African countries to its travel “red list” on Saturday, meaning that travel is now restricted from a total of 10 African countries: Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Residents from these countries will be denied entry to the U.K. British and Irish residents arriving from these countries will have to isolate at a government-approved hotel for 10 days.
It was clear that Johnson was still placing faith in the current vaccine program as he urged a faster rollout of booster shots. “We don’t yet, exactly, know how effective our vaccines will be against omicron, but we have good reasons for believing they will provide at least some measure of protection,” he said.
He was asked at the news conference if Britons should consider rearranging their plans for Christmas.
Johnson said he was “confident” that Christmas would be “considerably better than last Christmas.” Given the severe restrictions on many Britons last December, that’s not a particularly high bar.