Face masks again mandatory in England to combat omicron

Commuters in Canary Wharf underground tube station wear face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19, now mandatory on public transport in Britain after the emergence of new Omicron variant, in London, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. (Victoria Jones/PA via AP)
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The Associated PressCommuters in Canary Wharf underground tube station wear face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19, now mandatory on public transport in Britain after the emergence of new Omicron variant, in London, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. (Victoria Jones/PA via AP)

LONDON — England imposed new restrictions to combat the omicron variant on Tuesday, with face masks again compulsory in shops and on public transport.

Beginning Tuesday morning, all travelers returning to the U.K. must also take a PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result. Previously they had been able to take a lateral flow test and there was no requirement to isolate.

The reintroduction of mandatory face masks brings England closer in line with the rest of the U.K. — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — which had not relaxed coronavirus restrictions as much as England had done over the summer.

About 14 cases of the omicron variant have so far been identified across the U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the new measures will “buy us time in the face” of the new coronavirus variant.

Johnson’s government announced Monday it is expanding its booster vaccine program, with a booster dose to be offered to all those 18 and over three months after people had their second jab. Up until now, only people 40 or over and those deemed clinically vulnerable were eligible for a booster shot.

The change means around 13 million more people will be eligible. So far, the U.K. has given around 17.8 million booster shots.

Johnson is expected to encourage more people to get booster shots in a press conference later Tuesday.

Jenny Harries, who heads the U.K. Health Security Agency, said while there was still uncertainty in understanding the omicron variant, officials hope that the expanding booster shots will “to some extent counter the potential drop in vaccine effectiveness we might find with this variant.”

She also urged people to be cautious and reduce socializing over the holiday season if possible.

When asked if he agreed with Harries’ advice for the public to change their behavior, Johnson told reporters “it’s always sensible to be careful” but his government had no plans to change the “overall guidance about how people should be living their lives.”

The government’s scientific advisers said in October that a “Plan B” — including reintroducing government advice to work from home — should be implemented in case of a surge in infections, but the government has so far said there’s been nothing to suggest this is necessary.

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Follow all AP stories on the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.

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