Dec 012021
 

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The Prime Minister has introduced new restrictions in response to concerns over the new Omicron COVID-19 variant being identified in the UK, because there are fears that it could be more infectious and less responsive to vaccines.

These measures as temporary and have been introduced as a precaution to slow down the spread of the Omicron variant while the government gathers more information

Targeted measures to prevent the spread of the new COVID-19 Omicron variant took effect from 4.00am today (Tuesday 30 November 2021).

They are being introduced by the government as a precaution while more information is gathered and assessed on how easily this new variant spreads and any possible effect on vaccines.

The measures are temporary and precautionary, and will be reviewed in three weeks:

  • Face coverings are once again compulsory in shops and settings such as banks, post offices and hairdressers, as well as on public transport in England, unless an individual is exempt.
  • All contacts of suspected Omicron cases must self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of their age or vaccination status. They will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace
  • Anyone entering the UK must take a PCR test within 48 hours of arrival and self-isolate until they receive a negative result. The PCR tests are available online from private providers
  • Secondary schools pupils in England are being strongly advised to wear face coverings in communal areas. Due to high COVID-19 case rates in the south west, secondary schools across the region have been following this guidance since half term. The guidance applies to staff and visitors at all schools and childcare settings

Mask wearing in England is now compulsory in some settings

The government has published a list of settings that the new rules apply to.

They include shops and supermarkets, shopping centres, post offices, banks, pharmacies, and public transport. It also includes takeaways that don’t have space for people to eat or drink on premises. And it includes in cars or small vans during a professionally delivered driving lesson or driving test.

The full list:

  • shops and supermarkets (places which offer goods or services for retail sale or hire)
  • shopping centres (malls and indoor markets)
  • auction houses
  • post offices, banks, building societies, high street solicitors and accountants, credit unions, short-term loan providers, savings clubs and money service businesses
  • estate and letting agents
  • premises providing personal care and beauty treatments (barbers, hair salons, tattoo and piercing studios, nail salons and massage centres)
  • pharmacies
  • premises providing veterinary services
  • retail galleries
  • retail travel agents
  • takeaways without space for consumption of food or drink on premises
  • public transport (aeroplanes, trains, trams, buses, coaches and ferries), taxis and private hire vehicles
  • any car or small van during a professionally delivered driving lesson, a practical driving test, or during one of the practical tests for giving driving instruction, and in all HGV lessons and tests
  • transport hubs (airports, rail and tram stations and terminals, maritime ports and terminals, bus and coach stations and terminals)

You should continue to wear a face covering in other indoor places that are not listed above, which are crowded and enclosed and where you may come into contact with people you do not normally meet.

Staff within these settings, except some transport workers, are required to wear face coverings when they are in a part that is open to the public.

You are required to wear a face covering on entering any of these settings and must keep it on until you leave unless you are exempt or have a reasonable excuse for removing it.

Face coverings and face masks are needed in healthcare settings to comply with infection, prevention, control (IPC) guidance. This includes hospitals and primary or community care settings, such as GP surgeries. They should also be worn by everyone accessing or visiting care homes.

Why do we have to use face coverings again?

When someone with COVID-19 breathes, speaks, coughs or sneezes, they release particles into the air that may contain coronavirus, and these particles can be breathed in by other people.

By covering your nose and mouth with a face covering, you will reduce the spread of droplets by limiting the amount released when you talk and breathe. It helps to protect others.

Evidence suggests that transmission mainly happens indoors where people are close together.

Face coverings can also help reduce virus spread from contagious people with no symptoms.

If you are not able to wear a face covering

Some people will be exempt from wearing face coverings, due to their health or circumstance, and some will carry an exemption card by choice.

The government does not provide physical exemption cards or badges, but you can download one from their website to save to your mobile phone or print off.

What about schools?

The Department for Education (DfE) has updated their guidance for schools and childcare settings to reflect new measures announced by the Prime Minister in response to the Omicron COVID-19 variant.

The new measures will be introduced as a precaution to slow down the spread of the new Omicron variant while the government gathers more information. The measures include:

  • Face coverings should be worn in communal areas in all settings by staff, visitors and students in year seven and above, unless they are exempt
  • Pupils in year seven or above should continue to wear face coverings on public and dedicated school transport, unless they are exempt
  • All educational and childcare settings should continue to encourage staff and students to test twice weekly using lateral flow device (LFD) tests

All contacts of suspected Omicron cases must self-isolate for ten days, regardless of their age or vaccination status

The government’s guidance has been updated to reflect changes to self-isolation requirements for contacts of people who have been identified as a suspected or confirmed case of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

These contacts must stay at home and self-isolate for ten days, even if they are fully vaccinated or aged under 18 years and 6 months.

If you are a contact of someone with COVID-19 that has not been identified as a suspected or confirmed case of the Omicron variant, and you are fully vaccinated or aged under 18 years and 6 months old, you are not required to self-isolate.

You may be entitled to a one-off payment of £500 through the NHS Test and Trace Support Payment scheme if you are required to stay at home and self-isolate or you are the parent or guardian of a child who has been told to self-isolate.