UK

Masks rule returns… but not everyone is on board

Some commuters in London refused to wear facemasks while riding the Tube this morning as new Covid restrictions on coverings, testing and travel come into force in England.

Under rules which came into force at 4am today, facemasks are again compulsory on public transport, in 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 rules on public transport. 

Although many commuters in London wore facemasks on their way to work this morning, many others chose to ignore the restriction.

The scenes sparked calls for tougher enforcement of the restrictions. Unite’s national officer for passenger transport Bobby Morton told Radio 4’s Today programme that ‘people are not going to wear masks now just because Boris Johnson says it’s the right thing to do’.

He said: ‘Mandatory is a good word, but we’ve been through this scenario before in the pandemic, and I’ve always called out to the Government, ”don’t just make mask-wearing mandatory, but actually enforce the idea of it”. 

‘People are not going to wear masks now just because Boris Johnson says it’s the right thing to do. People will still get onto the buses whether they’ve been warned or not. And that’s down to the Government and the bus operators to bring someone in – be it the police or the operator’s own staff – to monitor and police and enforce the mandatory wearing of facemasks.

‘If they showed a presence and people knew that when they entered a bus or a tram or train or whatever that they could be caught and they could be fined, then it would make a difference. At the moment, nothing like that exists.’

According to the Office for National Statistics, 85 per cent of adults said they had worn a facemask outside their home in the past seven days, with 70 per cent saying they wore one often or always while shopping. However, just 18 per cent of people shopping said that everyone or almost everyone they saw was wearing a face covering.

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 stay in place initially until December 21 when a review will take place – though Whitehall sources last night acknowledged they were likely to continue into the New Year. 

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.  

Some commuters on the London Tube wear facemasks while others refuse to cover up as rules come into force today

Two people are seen not wearing facemasks on the Tube this morning while others next to them cover up

Two people are seen not wearing facemasks on the Tube this morning while others next to them cover up

Some commuters are seen leaving the Victoria Line on the London Underground and not wearing facemasks

Some commuters are seen leaving the Victoria Line on the London Underground and not wearing facemasks

Other commuters leaving the Victoria Line wear facemasks as new Covid restrictions come into force today

Other commuters leaving the Victoria Line wear facemasks as new Covid restrictions come into force today

A male commuter on the London Underground wearing a facemask

Commuters are seen wearing face coverings on the Underground

Left and right: Commuters in London wearing facemasks as the new Covid restrictions come into force today

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

Can the booster drive cope? Scramble begins for scarce third-dose appointments with 40 MILLION Britons now eligible, prompting the Government to aim to starting jabbing 500,000 people in bid to outpace Omicron 

There are concerns the UK’s booster drive won’t keep up with demand as 4,000 newly eligible Britons scrambled to book third doses on the NHS website.

The Government’s vaccines advisers today expanded the rollout to everyone aged over 18, meaning a total of 40million people are now eligible to receive a booster jab — but reports on the ground suggest the current drive was already struggling to reach the vulnerable.

Some already eligible over-40s still face hurdles to get their injection, including waits of over a month, spending hours on the phone to their GP or booking service, or being directed to vaccination sites tens of miles away from where they live.

Figures show a third fewer mass vaccination hubs are in operation compared to earlier this year, while overwhelmed NHS staff say they will struggle to help with getting jabs in arms due to winter pressures.

And a couple in their 80s said they struggled to get boosters because of confusing instructions on the NHS website.

An average of 2.1million people in England are getting their booster jab per week, meaning all adults won’t be boosted until mid-February if it continues at the current rate.

But ministers are aiming to carry out 500,000 Covid booster jabs a day in an effort to outpace the Omicron variant.

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’. 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.’

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’.

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

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

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

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

‘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.

What ARE the new Covid rules? Government says travellers can take PCR test on or BEFORE day two meaning they can take one at airport soon as they land in UK – as mask and self-isolation rules start today

TRAVEL RULES

Fully-vaccinated people entering the UK will be required to self-isolate until they receive a negative result from a PCR test taken by the second day after they arrive. 

When do the travel rules on testing change?

The travel rules on testing changed in England at 4am Tuesday. The answers below are given for those arriving in the country after that time.

IF FULLY VACCINATED 

What must you do if you arrive in England and are fully vaccinated?

If you are fully vaccinated by 4am, you must self-isolate, take a PCR test before the end of day two after you arrive and can only leave self-isolation once you have a negative result.

What was the previous situation? 

Previously, fully-vaccinated travellers were only required to take a cheaper lateral flow test – and did not need to self-isolate unless they received a positive result. 

Can you book a test to take at the airport?

Yes, you can pre-book a PCR test to take at airports such as Heathrow in advance of landing, although these sites tend to be only open within specified periods rather than being 24-hour. You must still self-isolate until you get your negative result.

Can you take a PCR test at the airport and be free from isolation within hours? 

Yes. For example at Heathrow Airport, you could book at ExpressTest with Cignpost from £59 for next-day results by 10pm; or a £119 test for results within three hours. 

You can end your self-isolation period once you have your negative result – meaning that you could be free within only three hours of landing.

What are the concerns about this rapid testing period?

There are fears that people could be unknowingly carrying Covid-19 even if they test negative, because the virus will not have had to time to incubate.

Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon has urged Boris Johnson to extend self-isolation rules for all UK arrivals from two to eight days – but the Prime Minister is unwilling to do this. 

Can you travel by train or bus to the place where you will self-isolate? 

Yes. Travellers must self-isolate at home until they get their result, although they can get to their quarantine location by public transport following their arrival. 

Can you use a lateral flow test?

No, lateral flow tests will not be accepted from 4am tomorrow – it must be a PCR test.

What must you do before you travel to England?

You have to book and pay for a PCR test to be taken before the end of day two in England, and complete a passenger locator form in the 48 hours before you arrive in England.

Air passengers queue to check in for flights at London Heathrow Airport this morning

Air passengers queue to check in for flights at London Heathrow Airport this morning

Does England ask for a ‘fit to fly’ certificate before flying back in?

No, you just need to have your PCR test booked and passenger locator form filled out. You do not need to have a negative test result before you fly into England.

Can you use an NHS test for your PCR?

No, you must use a private test provider – and you will have to enter your test booking reference number on your passenger locator form.

What if you are in England for less than two days?

It does not matter – you will still need to book and pay for a day two test.

What is the definition of day two?

Day two is the second day after you arrive. The day you arrive is day zero. So if you arrive in England on a Friday, day two is a Sunday.

Do you have to quarantine until you get the test result?

Yes. You must self-isolate in your home or the place you are staying until you receive the result.

Where can you quarantine? 

The Government’s official advice says you can quarantine at an address such as your own home, with friends or family, or in a standard hotel or other temporary accommodation.

You must quarantine at the address you provided on the passenger locator form. 

You do not have to quarantine in a managed quarantine hotel – because these are for only for people arriving from countries on the red list (see section below).

You must quarantine in one place for the full quarantine period, where you can have food and other necessities delivered.

Can you mix with other people while in quarantine at a hotel or home? 

The Government says that as soon as you arrive at your place of quarantine, ‘you should, as far as possible, avoid contact with other people in the place where you’re quarantining to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19’.

It adds: ‘You should stay in a well ventilated room with an outside window that can be opened, separate from other people in your home.

‘If you’re staying in a hotel or guest house, you must stay away from others who did not travel with you. You must not use shared areas such as bars, restaurants, health clubs and sports facilities.’

What if the test results are delayed?

You must still self-isolate until your test result is known or until day 14 after arrival, whichever is sooner.

Passengers arrive at Heathrow Airport this morning as a testing centre sign is seen

Passengers arrive at Heathrow Airport this morning as a testing centre sign is seen

What if the test result is unclear?

If you took a PCR test and the result is unclear, you must self-isolate for ten full days. The day you took the test is day zero. You can choose to take another private test – and, if the result is negative, you can stop self-isolating.

What if the test result is positive?

If you took a PCR test and the result is positive, you must self-isolate for ten full days. The day of the test is day zero.

What if the test result is negative?

You can end your period of self-isolation.

How do you qualify as fully vaccinated?

You must have proof of full vaccination with a full course of an approved vaccine.

You must have had your final dose of the vaccine at least 14 days before you arrive in England. The day you had your final dose is day zero.

You do not need to have had a third ‘booster’ jab in order to be defined as fully vaccinated. 

Who can have issued proof of vaccination?

Proof can be issued by either a) the UK vaccination programme; b) the United Nations vaccine programme for staff and volunteers; or c) an overseas vaccination programme with an approved proof of vaccination for travel to the UK.

How can you check which vaccines are approved?

Check which vaccines are approved and the list of countries and territories with approved proof of vaccination by clicking here.

Are there non-vaccinated people who can follow fully vaccinated rules?

Yes. Even if you are not fully vaccinated, the fully vaccinated rules apply if you are 1) under 18; 2) taking part in an approved Covid-19 vaccine trial in the UK or the USA (US residents only for USA trials), or a phase 2 or 3 vaccine trial that is regulated by the EMA (European Medicines Agency) or SRA; or 3) unable to have a Covid-19 vaccination for a medical reason which has been approved by a clinician under the medical exemptions process, and you are resident in England.

How can you prove your vaccination status if you were jabbed in the UK?

If you are fully vaccinated under the UK vaccination programme, you can prove your vaccination status using either the NHS Covid Pass for England and Wales; the NHS Scotland COVID Status app; the COVIDCert NI in Northern Ireland; or an approved paper certificate.

How can you prove your vaccination status if you were jabbed outside the UK?

Check what proof is required for the country or territory where you were vaccinated by clicking here.

IF NOT FULLY VACCINATED 

What if you cannot prove you are fully vaccinated under the rules in England?

If you cannot prove that you qualify under the fully vaccinated rules, you must follow the rules for people who are not fully vaccinated.

What do you have to do before arriving in England if you are not fully vaccinated?

Before you travel to England you must take a Covid-19 lateral flow or PCR test in the three days before you arrive; and book and pay for day two and day eight PCR tests, to be taken after arrival in England. You must also complete a passenger locator form in the 48 hours before you arrive.

The Omicron variant has now been detected in 14 countries. It was initially identified in Botswana, South Africa, and Hong Kong before being spotted in Belgium on Friday. Over the weekend several other countries confirmed cases. It has now spread to four continents in the almost three weeks since the first case

The Omicron variant has now been detected in 14 countries. It was initially identified in Botswana, South Africa, and Hong Kong before being spotted in Belgium on Friday. Over the weekend several other countries confirmed cases. It has now spread to four continents in the almost three weeks since the first case

What do you have to do after you arrive in England if you are not fully vaccinated?

After you arrive in England you must quarantine at home or in the place you are staying for ten full days; take your Covid-19 PCR tests which must be booked before you travel; and take the first test on or before day two and the second test on or after day eight. The day you arrive is day zero.

What happens if you are not fully vaccinated and in England for less than ten days?

If you are in England for less than ten days, you need to quarantine for the time you are here – and you still need to book day two and day eight PCR tests, but only need to take these if you are still in England on those days.

What do you have to do if the day two test result is positive?

If your day two test is positive, you must self-isolate for ten full days. The day you took the test is day zero. You do not need to take the day 8 test if your day 2 test is positive.

What do you have to do if the day eight test result is positive?

If your day eight test is positive, you must self-isolate for ten full days. The day you took the day eight test is day zero.

What do you have to do if the day two test result is negative?

If your day two test is negative, you must continue to isolate and then take your day eight test.

What do you have to do if the day eight test result is negative?

If your day eight test is negative, you can stop quarantine on whichever is later – either 1) day ten, with day zero being the day you arrived in England; or 2) when you receive the day eight test result.

An example of this is that if you receive your day eight negative test result back on day nine, you must continue to quarantine until the end of day ten. But if you receive your day eight negative test result back on day 12, you must quarantine until the end of day 12.

B.1.1.529, or the Omicron variant, has some 50 mutations — 30 of which are on its spike protein which the virus uses to invade cells. The current crop of vaccines triggers the body to attack the spike protein from older versions of the virus. But there are fears that the spike on B.1.1.529 may look so different that the body's immune system will struggle to recognise it and fight it off, leading to an infection

B.1.1.529, or the Omicron variant, has some 50 mutations — 30 of which are on its spike protein which the virus uses to invade cells. The current crop of vaccines triggers the body to attack the spike protein from older versions of the virus. But there are fears that the spike on B.1.1.529 may look so different that the body’s immune system will struggle to recognise it and fight it off, leading to an infection

What if the test results are unclear?

If the result of your day two test is unclear, you must self-isolate for ten full days. The day you took the test is day zero.

If your day eight test is unclear, you must self-isolate for ten full days. The day you took the day eight test is day zero.

You could also choose to take another private test. If that test result is a negative result, you can stop self-isolating on whichever is later – either 1) day 10, with day zero being the day you arrive in England; or 2) the day you received the negative replacement test result from the additional test.

Does the Test to Release scheme still apply?

Yes. If you need to quarantine, you may be able to end quarantine early if you pay for a private Covid-19 test through the Test to Release scheme.

Under the Test to Release scheme you can choose to pay for a private Covid-19 test on day five. If the result is negative – and the result of your day 2 test result was negative or inconclusive – you can end your quarantine.

CHILDREN 

Do children have to quarantine upon arrival in England?

No. Children aged 17 and under do not have to quarantine on arrival in England. This applies whether they are vaccinated or not.

Do children have to take a Covid test upon arrival in England?

Children aged four and under do not have to take any Covid-19 travel tests.

Those aged five to 17 do not have to take a Covid-19 test before travel to England.

However, those aged five to 17 they must take a test on arrival in England – before the end of day two at the latest (arrival day is day zero). 

From tomorrow, five to 17-year-olds must take a PCR test.

EXEMPTIONS

What if you are travelling from Ireland or other parts of the UK into England?

If you’re travelling to England from within the UK, Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man, you do not need to complete a passenger locator form, take any Covid-19 tests or quarantine on arrival in England.

This only applies if you have not been outside of the UK, Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man in the ten days before the day you arrive in England. 

Are some people exempt from the restrictions because of their job?

Yes, if you do one of a series jobs listed here you may qualify for an exemption from one or more of the Covid-related travel restrictions.

These jobs include aircraft pilots and crew, BBC broadcasting transmission network and services roles, border security duties and coach drivers.

What if you are travelling abroad (outside the Common Travel Area) from England?

You should check foreign travel advice for all countries you will visit or travel through, to see if you will need to show proof of vaccination status or proof of a negative test and quarantine on arrival. The rules vary between countries.

For example, Switzerland has effectively ‘red listed’ Britain by subjecting arrivals to ten days of self-quarantine. Britons arriving in the country will have to show proof of full vaccination, a negative Covid test and then self-isolate. 

Spain also announced a ban on unvaccinated British tourists after Portugal said it would demand proof of a negative test even for double-jabbed visitors.

RED LIST 

Does the red list still apply?

Yes, there are different rules if you have been in a red list country or territory in the ten days before you arrive in England. Red list rules apply whether you are fully vaccinated or not.

The 10 red list countries

  • South Africa
  • Botswana
  • Eswatini
  • Lesotho
  • Namibia
  • Zimbabwe 
  • Angola
  • Malawi
  • Mozambique
  • Zambia

What countries are on the red list?

Ten African countries have been added to the UK’s red list since Friday.

South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe moved onto the red list at 12pm last Friday (November 26). 

Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia moved onto the red list at 4am yesterday (November 28).

Can you travel into England from a red list country?

Yes, but if you have been in a country or territory on the red list in the 10 days before you arrive in England, you will only be allowed to enter the UK if you either are a British or Irish National, or have residence rights in the UK.

What must you do before you travel to England?

Take a Covid-19 lateral flow or PCR test in the three days before you travel to England; book a quarantine hotel package (see below), including two PCR tests and complete a passenger locator form.

What is the cost of a quarantine hotel package?

One adult in one room for ten days (11 nights) is £2,285. The additional rate for one adult (or child over 11) is £1,430, while the additional rate for a child aged 5 to 11 is £325. You do not have to pay for children under five, but they must also complete the quarantine. 

FACE MASKS 

Face coverings will be made compulsory on public transport and in shops, banks and hairdressers – but not in pubs and restaurants. 

What will the new rules on face coverings be?

From 4am, face coverings will be compulsory in shops and other retail settings such as banks, post offices and hairdressers, as well as on public transport.

What were the current rules before 4am?

There were no rules on wearing face coverings in shops although some retailers asked that you do. On transport, there were also no rules apart from on the Transport for London network where they are mandatory. 

However, it was not illegal to travel on London transport without a mask – but you could have been asked to leave the network if you were not wearing one.

Passengers wear face masks on a London Underground train on the morning commute today

Passengers wear face masks on a London Underground train on the morning commute today 

What will the fine be for non-compliance from today?

British Transport Police are expected to advise passengers on the new rules, but breaches could feasibly see £200 fines.

London TravelWatch has said the requirement will have to be ‘properly enforced to give out the signal that the rules have changed’. 

Will exemptions on face coverings still apply?

Yes, all the normal exemptions for health and other reasons will still exist.

Will you have to wear a mask in pubs or restaurants?

No, the rules won’t be extended to hospitality venues in England. Health Minister Edward Argar said this was for practical reasons, because you cannot eat or drink while wearing a mask.

A woman wearing a face mask walks past a couple at a Sainsbury's in Kent earlier this year

A woman wearing a face mask walks past a couple at a Sainsbury’s in Kent earlier this year

What about in schools?

The Department for Education has told schools and colleges in England that students in year 7 and above should wear face masks in communal areas.

The new guidance says staff, visitors and pupils are ‘strongly advised’ to wear a face covering in communal areas, unless they are exempt.

However there is no guidance on pupils having to wear face masks once seated in their classroom. 

And what about universities? 

Department for Education guidance also states that face coverings should be worn by university students and staff in communal spaces and corridors. 

SELF-ISOLATING

People identified as contacts of suspected Omicron cases will have to isolate for ten days regardless of their vaccination status. 

Who do the new self-isolation rules apply to? 

All contacts of suspected Omicron cases must self-isolate, regardless of their vaccination status.

How will you know if you are a contact of a suspected Omicron case?

The Government says you will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace.

In order for officials to know when you have Omicron they need to genome sequence a positive test sample, which could take several days.

Currently, sample analysis is being targeted in areas where cases of the variant have been spotted. And everyone who has returned from southern Africa in the last fortnight has their test sequenced.

But there is already a suspicion that the strain is spreading domestically, so many cases might already be going missing.

And with around 44,000 Britons testing positive each day, it will be impossible for scientists to determine whether every positive sample is Omicron.

And due to the delay in confirming a positive PCR test, a person infected may have passed the virus on to a contact who does not find out until days later.

What does self-isolation actually mean?

You must not go to work, school or public places – and work from home if you can. You must not go on public transport or use taxis, or go out to get food and medicine.

You must also not have visitors in your home, including friends and family – except for people providing essential care. And you should not go out to exercise. 

The NHS advises people to exercise at home or in your garden, if you have one.

Could we be heading for another Pingdemic?

The Pingdemic over the summer was caused by people’s NHS Covid-19 app ‘pinging’ them to say they had been in close contact with someone who has Covid-19.

This time, if Omicron causes a huge spike in numbers of cases, it could mean large numbers of people are again stuck at home in what may be branded ‘Pingdemic 2.0’.

WHAT NEXT? 

How long will the new rules last?

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said the measures will be reviewed in three weeks, which would be the last Saturday before Christmas.

Could the restrictions get tougher?

The first ministers of Scotland and Wales called on Boris Johnson to extend self-isolation rules for all UK arrivals from two to eight days — as Scotland confirmed six cases of the Omicron variant including some with no links abroad.

Nicola Sturgeon said Scots should start working from home immediately to curb the spread of the virus in a warning sign that England could soon face more restrictions.

Surge testing will also be deployed in areas of Scotland where the super-strain has been detected amid fears it could already be transmitting in the community.

Ms Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford have asked for an emergency Cobra meeting to come up with a ‘tougher four nations approach’ to control the spread of the variant. 


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