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Covid rule returns: Masks must be worn in shops and on transport while travellers have to take tests

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New Covid restrictions on compulsory facemasks, testing and travel have come into force in England today.

Under rules which came into force at 4am today, face coverings are again mandatory in public transport, shops and settings such as banks, post offices and hairdressers.

Guidance published on Monday night said masks would be needed in personal care and beauty salons, as well as tattoo parlours. They will be required at takeaways, estate agents, solicitors, loan providers and veterinary clinics and in taxis, private hire vehicles and driving instruction cars or vans.

Those caught flouting the restrictions will be fined £200 for a first offence, which will double on each subsequent offence up to a maximum of £6,400.

The Confederation of Passenger Transport, which represents the UK’s bus and coach industry, said yesterday that police, rather than operators, would enforce the new facemask rules on public transport. 

All travellers returning to the UK must take a PCR test and self-isolate for 10 days until they receive a negative result. And all contacts of anybody who tests positive for the so-called ‘Omicron’ variant must self-isolate – regardless of their age or vaccination status. Anyone who breaks the self-isolation law without a ‘reasonable excuse’ faces a fine of £1,000, rising to £10,000 for repeat offenders and serious breaches.

Downing Street insisted that the new measures coming into effect today are ‘temporary and precautionary’ and will be reviewed in three weeks, though Whitehall sources last night acknowledged they were likely to continue into the New Year.

The new rules will stay in place initially until December 21. MPs will vote on the regulations tonight, with ministers braced for a rebellion by Tory MPs deeply unhappy at the prospect of a return of controls. But with Labour backing the measures, there is expected to be little chance of a Government defeat.

England is the only UK nation where working from home is not encouraged. Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon slammed the brakes on any easing of restrictions on Monday by urging people to ‘work from home if possible’.   

New Covid restrictions on compulsory facemasks, testing and travel have come into force in England today

New Covid restrictions on compulsory facemasks, testing and travel have come into force in England today

Under rules which came into force at 4am today, face coverings are again mandatory in public transport, shops and settings such as banks, post offices and hairdressers

Under rules which came into force at 4am today, face coverings are again mandatory in public transport, shops and settings such as banks, post offices and hairdressers

Pictured: The new coronavirus rules coming into force today across England in a bid to curb the spread of the Omicron variant

Pictured: The new coronavirus rules coming into force today across England in a bid to curb the spread of the Omicron variant  

It came as two new infections with the Omicron variant were confirmed today in Wandsworth and Camden, both based in London. It means some 11 infections with the mutant strain have been spotted in the country to date

It came as two new infections with the Omicron variant were confirmed today in Wandsworth and Camden, both based in London. It means some 11 infections with the mutant strain have been spotted in the country to date 

Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, said the booster programme had been put 'on steroids' as the main line of defence against the worrying new variant that is believed to be more infectious and vaccine resistant than Delta

Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, said the booster programme had been put ‘on steroids’ as the main line of defence against the worrying new variant that is believed to be more infectious and vaccine resistant than Delta

The advice is the same in Northern Ireland, and working from home is encouraged under current guidance in Wales.

Labour and the SNP yesterday called on Boris Johnson to impose tougher restrictions. In a joint letter, Scottish and Welsh first ministers Ms Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford said travellers should be forced to self-isolate for at least eight days, regardless of their vaccination status or where they had come from.

The two leaders claimed that ‘public health advice is unequivocal that this is the best and safest way to protect against the importation of this variant’.

Miss Sturgeon said that while she was hoping for the best, people should ‘prepare for the worst’. Both leaders are also urging people to work from home. And they demanded Treasury guarantees that they would be funded to operate their own furlough schemes if they wanted to order businesses to close down.

Labour also went further in England, demanding that masks should be made compulsory in pubs and restaurants.

It comes after six cases of the ‘Omicron’ variant of coronavirus were identified in Scotland, in addition to three previously identified in England.

On Monday, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman said it was up to employers to decide on the ‘right balance’ for them, when it came to whether staff worked from home or the office. Jurisdiction over restrictions is devolved, meaning Mr Johnson’s policies apply to England, and may differ from the rules elsewhere in the UK.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid indicated that ministers were wary of taking any action that could further damage the hard-hit hospitality sector.

He tried to reassure MPs the measures were a precaution to give scientists time to analyse the threat posed by Omicron.

Mr Javid said the variant ‘may have given the virus extra legs’ in the race between the disease and vaccines. But he added: ‘If it emerges that this variant is no more dangerous than the Delta variant, then we won’t keep measures in place for a day longer than is necessary.’

Guidance published on Monday night said masks would be needed in personal care and beauty salons, as well as tattoo parlours

Guidance published on Monday night said masks would be needed in personal care and beauty salons, as well as tattoo parlours

Pictured from left to right Professor Wei Shen Lim, head of the JCVI which design Britain’s roll out, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, and Dr June Raine, the head of the MHRA

The Health Secretary said hospitalisations would be ‘what matters more than anything’ in deciding whether more measures are needed.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation is now advising that all adults aged 18 to 39 should be offered a booster dose of the Covid vaccine, in order of descending age groups, to increase their level of protection. Those aged 40 and over are already eligible for a booster vaccine.

The JCVI said booster doses should be given no sooner than three months after people have had their second dose of an original vaccine – shaving three months off the current six-month wait.

In further advice, young people aged 12 to 15 should be offered a second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, no sooner than 12 weeks after their first dose.

The NHS said it will shortly set out how staff will expand the booster programme.

A spokesman said this will include how booster jabs will be given in priority order so that the most vulnerable people are protected first, while also increasing capacity to vaccinate millions more people in a shorter space of time.

The Prime Minister said the measures will ‘buy us time in the face of this new variant’ and called the vaccines ‘our best line of defence’.

‘Based on everything we know, our vaccines and boosters remain our best line of defence, so it is more important than ever that people come forward when eligible to get boosted,’ Mr Johnson said.

‘Not only will today’s steps help us slow down the variant’s spread, but they will help us protect each other and the gains we have all worked so hard for.’

England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam told a Downing Street briefing on Monday that the booster campaign has ‘never been more vital than at this point in time’.

Prof Van-Tam said scientists around the world agree that the Omicron variant is ‘of increased concern’.

He added there are still uncertainties about how transmissible the variant is and its impact on severity of disease, saying the ‘number of mutations present, already on first principle, makes us worry about a possible effect on vaccine effectiveness’.

The deputy chief medical officer made clear that there ‘are far more things we don’t know yet, than things we do know’ about the variant, but that he expects more to become clear in three weeks.

Mr Johnson is expected on Tuesday to visit a GP surgery where people are receiving booster jabs.

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