Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently reinstated mandatory masks in shops and public transport to respond to the discovery that there is a new coronavirus strain. The requirements had been lifted in July. The new strain, B.1.1.529, also known as ‘Omicron,’ was discovered in southern Africa and the United Kingdom imposed travel restrictions for those traveling from many southern African countries. It required that all arrivals be quarantined in hotels for 10 consecutive days.
The variant case was related to recent travel from South Africa and maybe more transmissible than the dominant Delta strain. There is still the possibility that the vaccines currently available may not be as effective against it.
Boris Johnson, Prime Minister, held an impromptu press conference and used rather confusing language to announce a tightening of rules on mask-wearing on public transport and in shops. These rules were lifted in July and it is unclear how he intends to “tighten up”.
During his speech, Mr. Johnson asked the media to help contain this variant by tightening the rules on face covers in shops and on public transportation.
Sky News’s Nick Martin asked Johnson if he was communicating confusion from many who had heard such a vague statement. Johnson replied: “Can you please be a little clearer about your statements about-face coverings?” You stated that it was necessary to “tighten up” on them. Do you think you are going to make facial coverings compulsory in any indoor space?
Prime Minister was forced to confirm that this meant the return to mandatory masks. He said that face covers were coming back in retail and transportation. Prime Minister Johnson stated that the measures are temporary and preventive.
During his speech, the prime minister mentioned other precautions as a preventative while we learn more about the virus. This includes a testing center for arrivals from all over the world where travelers are required to take a PCR test within the first day of their arrival, and to self-isolate until they get a negative result. People will continue to travel internationally.
All Omicron-positive contacts will be instructed to self-isolate for 10 consecutive days regardless of their vaccination status.
Johnson states that although we don’t know the effectiveness of our vaccines against Omicron yet, there are good reasons to believe they will provide at most some degree of protection. He called for more people to get vaccinated and announced that his government vaccine committee would be looking into expanding access to boosters for as many people as possible.
He said that the precautionary and temporary measures we have taken today are temporary and will be reviewed in 3 weeks. He said we should then have more information on the effectiveness of our vaccines and hopes to lift these restrictions soon.
The prime minister states that this was the right course of action at this time to stop the spread of this variant and maximize our defenses. Many in the press disagreed.