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Nicola Sturgeon calls for eight-day isolation for ALL travellers

What are the new Covid rules in England in response to the Omicron variant?

– Face masks will once again be compulsory in certain settings. They will be compulsory in shops and on public transport as of 4am on Tuesday. 

– Staff, visitors and pupils in Year 7 and above are being advised to wear face masks in school communal areas like corridors and canteens. The same advice applies to colleges and universities.   

– Fully-vaccinated travellers who enter the UK must take a PCR test by the end of the second day after their arrival. They can leave self-isolation once they test negative. There is no change for people who are not fully-vaccinated – they still have to spend 10 days in self-isolation.     

– People who are identified as a contact of a suspected case of the Omicron variant must self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status.

– The latest rules will be reviewed in three weeks’ time.  

Tory MPs today demanded a guarantee from Boris Johnson that he will ‘never, ever go back to locking this country down’ amid rising alarm at the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.   

The Government has responded to the emergence of the new strain of the disease by introducing a handful of Covid rules, including making face masks compulsory again in shops and on public transport. 

The measures in England will be reviewed in three weeks’ time but Conservative MPs this afternoon expressed concerns about a potential return to more draconian curbs should the situation deteriorate. 

They sought assurances from Health Secretary Sajid Javid as he delivered an update in the House of Commons that ministers will not introduce ‘panic measures’ if there is a spike in Covid case numbers as they argued the focus should be on the number of hospitalisations and levels of severe illness. 

Tory backbenchers asked for a promise that the Government will ‘do everything possible not to shut down the hospitality and events sector again’ as they warned firms are ‘just getting back on their feet’ and ministers must not ‘knock them down again’. 

Mr Javid was unable to rule out tougher restrictions or another lockdown but he said that if the new variant proves to be ‘no more dangerous than the Delta variant then we won’t keep measures in place for a day longer than necessary’.  

The Health Secretary revealed that a further two Omicron cases have been detected in England, making five in total, while six had been detected in Scotland, taking the UK total to 11. 

The Government’s new coronavirus restrictions are designed to slow the spread of the disease to buy scientists some time as they race to analyse the new variant and assess how effective existing vaccines will be against it. 

As well as the new rule on masks, which will come into effect from 4am tomorrow, all travellers returning to the UK must now take a PCR test on or before day two after their arrival. They can leave isolation once they have a negative test result. 

Meanwhile, all close contacts of Omicron cases must isolate at home for ten days regardless of whether they are vaccinated or not, prompting fears of another ‘pingdemic’ which could wreak havoc in schools.

MPs will vote on the measures tomorrow – after they have already been rolled out – with Mr Johnson likely to face a rebellion from anti-lockdown Tories.  

The restrictions in England are softer than in Wales and Scotland and the PM faced calls from Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford this morning to toughen up the overall UK response to the variant. 

The two first ministers wrote to the PM to urge him to extend Covid self-isolation travel rules for all UK arrivals from two to eight days. They also demanded an emergency COBRA committee meeting to discuss the response and pushed for the Government to prepare for the possibility of bringing back the furlough scheme.  

But Downing Street swiftly rejected the pleas, arguing that the Government’s initial response to the variant is still the correct one and it will be reviewed in three weeks’ time.  

Snubbing the call for a COBRA meeting, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman said that ‘currently there isn’t one scheduled’ and insisted ‘we obviously speak to devolved administration counterparts very regularly’.

On the call to extend the self-isolation period for returning travellers to eight days, the spokesman said the current approach of two days is ‘proportionate… to the evidence that we currently have available about this variant’.

Number 10 also insisted its approach to working from home remains unchanged, with employers in England still being encouraged to bring staff back to offices. 

Ms Sturgeon had told a coronavirus briefing this morning that Scots should start working from home immediately to stem the virus. She revealed that some of the Omicron cases in Scotland do not have links abroad, suggesting the variant is now spreading domestically.  

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) announced this afternoon that it is extending its advice on the booster jab rollout to recommend that all adults aged 18 and over should be eligible for a third vaccination.  

Booster jabs are currently only available to the over-40s but the JCVI has told the Government that 18 to 39 year-olds should now be included, with jabs offered in order of descending age groups, as part of efforts to tackle the spread of the variant.  

The JCVI has also recommended reducing the minimum amount of time people have to wait for their booster following their second dose from six months to three while young people aged 12 to 15 should be offered a second dose of the Pfizer vaccine, no sooner than 12 weeks after their first dose. Mr Javid told MPs that he had accepted the JCVI’s recommendations in full.     

Scottish health officials announced four Omicron infections were spotted in Lanarkshire and two in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde area today. Ms Sturgeon said ‘some’ were not linked to travel, suggesting the variant may already be spreading in the community in Scotland. She warned the variant was the ‘most challenging development’ in the pandemic ‘in quite some time’. 

Eleven Omicron cases have been confirmed in the UK so far but Government labs are examining another 75 ‘probable’ cases and up to 150 ‘possible’ infections. Officials say it is ‘very likely’ that more cases will be detected in the coming days.

The World Health Organization warned the Omicron variant posed a ‘very high’ risk globally and could have ‘severe consequences’ in some countries. They labelled it ‘of concern’ last week, the highest alert level. 

As Britain confirmed its ninth Omicron case:

  • Another two cases of Omicron were detected in England today, both in Londoners who had travel links to South Africa; 
  • Britain’s Covid vaccine advisory panel extended the booster programme to over-18s to give the country another line of defence against the variant;
  • Health Minister Sajid Javid will chair an urgent meeting with G7 health leaders in London to thrash out an international strategy to deal with the strain. The meeting is scheduled for 12.30pm;
  • Mr Javid is also set to update the nation in Parliament at 3.30pm on the risk posed by the mutant strain; 
  • Experts said they needed at least two weeks to understand whether B.1.1.529, its scientific name, is more likely to cause hospitalisation because of the time taken for someone who catches it to get severely ill; 
  • Families were told to plan for Christmas ‘as normal’ as ministers rejected calls to bring back more restrictions; 
  • Medics in South Africa urged the world not to panic about Omicron despite fears it can spread rapidly and may evade vaccines; 
  • Police will be given the power to issue fines of between £200 and £6,400 to back up the order for face coverings to be used on public transport and in shops, banks and hairdressers again from tomorrow.

Scottish health officials announced four cases in Lanarkshire and two in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde area today (top). The Deputy First Minister warned only ‘some’ were linked to foreign travel, suggesting the variant may already be spreading through the community. It means nine cases have been spotted in the UK so far after three were detected in England. Unlike in Scotland, these were all linked to foreign travel. UK labs are also looking at up to 225 possible infections

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Scots should start working from home immediately today and announced surge testing in areas where the mutant strain had been detected. Ms Sturgeon and Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford have called for an emergency COBRA meeting to thrash out a 'tougher four nations approach' to the Omicron variant

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Scots should start working from home immediately today and announced surge testing in areas where the mutant strain had been detected. Ms Sturgeon and Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford have called for an emergency COBRA meeting to thrash out a ‘tougher four nations approach’ to the Omicron variant

Pictured is Professor Chris Whitty, England's chief medical adviser

Pictured is Professor Sir Patrick Vallance, England's chief scientific adviser

Pictured above are Professor Chris Whitty (left), England’s chief medical adviser, and Professor Sir Patrick Vallance, England’schief scientific adviser. The pair appeared at a hurried press conference this weekend where the Government announced face masks would again be required in shops and on public transport and arrivals must quarantine for two days

Boris Johnson announced on Saturday that face masks will be made compulsory in shops and on public transport as part of a handful of measures to stop the spread of the variant

Boris Johnson announced on Saturday that face masks will be made compulsory in shops and on public transport as part of a handful of measures to stop the spread of the variant

Pictured above are passengers queuing for check-in at Heathrow airport this morning. It comes amid fears that further travel restrictions could be imposed because of concern over the spread of the variant

Pictured above are passengers queuing for check-in at Heathrow airport this morning. It comes amid fears that further travel restrictions could be imposed because of concern over the spread of the variant

Pictured above is the letter that Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Welsh First Minister Martin Drakeford sent to Boris Johnson today calling for a 'tougher four nations approach' to the Omicron variant

Pictured above is the letter that Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Welsh First Minister Martin Drakeford sent to Boris Johnson today calling for a 'tougher four nations approach' to the Omicron variant

Pictured above is the letter that Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Welsh First Minister Martin Drakeford sent to Boris Johnson today calling for a ‘tougher four nations approach’ to the Omicron variant

Pictured above are Covid testers in Brentwood, Essex, where one of the Omicron infections was spotted. Health officials there say the case is 'well' and self-isolating at home with their family. They say the individual has 'some' symptoms but that these are not serious enough to lead to hospitalisation. Contact tracing is ongoing in the area

Pictured above are Covid testers in Brentwood, Essex, where one of the Omicron infections was spotted. Health officials there say the case is ‘well’ and self-isolating at home with their family. They say the individual has ‘some’ symptoms but that these are not serious enough to lead to hospitalisation. Contact tracing is ongoing in the area 

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

Now large-scale Christmas parties are CANCELLED: Big City firms say festive bashes are off for the second year running

UK firms are cancelling mass Christmas parties as fears mount over the new Omicron variant — as the UK hospitality industry said bookings were being scrapped and plans changed due to the ‘chilling’ talk of Plan B.  

The emergence of the new Covid-19 strain has forced companies to scrap parties for large numbers of people, turning instead to smaller departmental gatherings as the pandemic threatens the festive season for a second year.  

Law firm Osborne Clarke in London said they were now opting for ‘low key festivities’ rather than ‘big shindigs’.

The firm’s managing partner Ray Berg told MailOnline: ‘We asked our people and their preference is for local team-level celebrations, so we’re opting for low key festivities rather than big shindigs this year. 

‘Given the emergence of a new variant I think we made the right call, no one wants to have a second lockdown Christmas.’ 

And while the UK’s hospitality sector said businesses recovering from the pandemic had ‘invested heavily’ in making their venues safe for the public with measures including ventilation, hygiene and sanitation, events planners said the Omicron variant was causing concern.  

One senior events planner in London said they were now ‘on the cusp’ of clients stalling with balance payments for New Year’s parties. 

Return of the mask: More commuters wear face coverings on trains and buses (but some still refuse) 

More commuters appeared to be wearing face coverings on trains and buses this morning as England braced for new legal penalties under tougher Covid rules coming into force to tackle the Omicron variant.

From midnight, police will be given the power to issue people with fines of between £200 and £6,400 if face coverings are not worn on trains, buses and tubes and in shops, banks and post offices. The rules do not apply to indoor hospitality settings, such as pubs, restaurants, theatres and cinemas.

Unions have warned the current Transport for London requirement for masks to be worn was being ‘openly ignored’ on a large scale. But today most Tube passengers were seen with face coverings – although a substantial minority still went without. 

In September, Network Rail found that just 20% of people were still wearing masks on trains, but this morning most passengers at Waterloo Station had their faces covered.

The situation is complicated by some train services still enforcing their own mask mandates and others deciding not to. Some passengers may also have medical exemptions.

Meanwhile, there was a mixed picture on the Newcastle Metro this morning. Last month operator Nexus warned that less than 40% of passengers were still using masks despite it being a requirement. 

Tory MPs grilled Mr Javid on the UK’s response to the variant this afternoon in the Commons as they sought assurances that there will not be another lockdown. 

Conservative backbencher Richard Drax said: ‘None of us underplay the threat of any new variant and as my right honourable friend said today, Covid is not going to go away. It is not. It is here for the rest of our lives.

‘The country is learning to live with this disease now, it is the only way forward.

‘Can he please reassure me, the House and the country that he will never, ever go back to locking this country down.’

Mr Javid replied: ‘No one wants to see those kind of measures but… first let me agree with him that Covid is with us to stay and we need to learn to live with it and the best way I think we can do that is with the primary form of defence which we have got which is our vaccination programme.’

Former Cabinet minister Greg Clark urged Mr Javid to ‘avoid taking any panic measures if we see a rise in infections during the weeks ahead, as seems inevitable, and concentrate instead on the vaccines’ effectiveness against severe illness, hospitalisation’. 

The Health Secretary said Mr Clark was ‘absolutely right’.  

Meanwhile, senior Tory MP Theresa Villiers said: ‘If the situation deteriorates, and we all hope it won’t, but if it does, please can the Government do everything possible not to shut down the hospitality and events sector again?

‘Millions of people, their livelihoods depend on this. They are just getting back on their feet, please let us not knock them down again.’

Mr Javid replied: ‘I agree absolutely with my right honourable friend.’

The Health Secretary told the Commons that ‘scientists are working at speed at home and abroad to determine whether this variant is more dangerous’ than its predecessors.

He added: ‘And I can assure the House that 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 necessary.’  

Ms Sturgeon made the case for a four nation approach to tackling the variant this morning, telling a briefing: ‘As we know from earlier stages of the pandemic, with so many people travelling to Scotland and indeed to Wales via airports in England, anything less than a four nations approach to requirements like this will be ineffective.

‘We hope that a four nations agreement can be reached.’

Ms Sturgeon warned current information on Omicron suggests ‘we should treat it seriously and we should continue to act on a precautionary basis at this stage’.

She said: ‘While we all hope that the emerging understanding of it will reduce rather than increase our level of concern, there is no doubt that this presents potentially the most challenging development in the course of the pandemic for quite some time.’

The First Minister added: ‘Vaccines remain our best line of defence and I want to stress at this point, if and it is still an if, the vaccines do prove to be less effective against this new variant, vaccination will still be hugely important — less effective does not mean ineffective.

‘If anything the new variant makes it more important not less important to get all doses of the vaccine.’ 

Ms Sturgeon and Mr Drakeford said in a joint letter sent to Mr Johnson: ‘The emergence of Omicron poses a potential threat to the UK. It is clear that the strain is already here and that it appears highly transmissible.

‘We need to work collectively – and effectively – as Four Nations to take all reasonable steps to control the ingress of the virus to the country and then to limit its spread.

‘We are clear that a Four Nations approach to issues such as border restrictions is the most effective approach. This requires that a meeting of the COBRA Committee be held as soon as possible.’

On the issue of travel self-isolation, they said: ‘We believe the reinstatement of a requirement for a ‘day 8’ PCR test for travellers arriving into the UK – alongside the ‘day 2’ requirement already announced, and thereby requiring isolation for that whole period – is now necessary.’

Ms Sturgeon and Mr Drakeford also sought confirmation from Mr Johnson that ‘devolved financial business support schemes will be funded by the Treasury in the event more interventionist measures are required to respond to the public health situation’.

Downing Street rejected the call for a COBRA meeting and for the self-isolation period to be extended. 

The PM’s Official Spokesman said: ‘We confirm any plans for a COBRA meeting in the normal way. Currently there isn’t one scheduled. We obviously speak to devolved administration counterparts very regularly and we will continue to coordinate our response with them.’

On the isolation issue, the spokesman said: ‘We believe that the approach that we are taking is the proportionate one to the evidence that we currently have available about this variant.

‘Introducing further isolation requirements and testing requirements would have a detrimental effect on the travel industry and indeed those who are planning to go travelling.

‘So our response needs to be balance based on what we know currently about this variant. We are taking a precautionary approach. We believe it is responsible and proportionate, as I say.

‘But obviously we will keep our measures under review as evidence about this variant increases.’

Scotland’s Deputy First Minister John Swinney said ‘some’ of the B.1.1.529 cases spotted in the country were not linked to travel to southern Africa where the variant was first identified.

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

Between November 11 and November 26, there were 48 direct flights from Cape Town and Johannesburg to London Heathrow. During this period, there were two British Airways flights and one Virgin Atlantic flight per day

Between November 11 and November 26, there were 48 direct flights from Cape Town and Johannesburg to London Heathrow. During this period, there were two British Airways flights and one Virgin Atlantic flight per day

Graphs shown at a Downing Street press conference on Saturday showed the number of people who have been jabbed

Graphs shown at a Downing Street press conference on Saturday showed the number of people who have been jabbed

Education Secretary tells schools to STOP cancelling nativities and warns they MUST stay open as unions demand return of masks and Covid bubbles

Schools should not cancel their Christmas nativities and must stay open despite growing panic about the new Covid variant, the Education Secretary said today.

Nadhim Zahawi made the impassioned plea in an interview with ITV’s This Morning, calling for calm and urging teachers to keep children in schools ahead of the Christmas holiday.

Schoolchildren are being tested for the so-called ‘Omicron’ strain and head teachers have imposed their own ‘circuit breakers’ and sent pupils home as cases are detected – including St Mary’s Primary School in Hertfordshire today.

The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman today also dismissed calls from union leaders for schools to break up early for Christmas, saying their education was ‘vital’.  

Schools in Surrey have cancelled Christmas nativities after the council told them not to hold large gatherings which could lead to significant mixing of people from different households.

Ministers have ruled that schoolchildren should wear face masks in ‘communal areas’ including hallways and said close contacts of those who test positive for the new mutation – including children – must self-isolate for 10 days.

Furious parents and MPs have argued that the restrictions will cause ‘chaos’ and further disrupt children’s education. 

However, teaching unions are demanding that Ministers go even further. The Association of School and College Leaders called on Ministers to encourage twice-weekly home Covid testing ‘in order to reduce the risk of transmission’, while Dr Mary Bousted, the Joint General-Secretary of the National Education Union, said that facemasks should be extended to classrooms. 

Speaking to Radio 4’s Today programme, she said: ‘I have to say that we are disappointed that mask-wearing has not been reintroduced in secondary schools in classrooms as well.’  

Today, the Education Secretary told This Morning hosts Philip Schofield and Holly Willoughby that closing schools was the last possible option in the fight against ‘Omicron’.  

Mr Zahawi added: ‘Keep schools open: do all the things necessary, like facemasks in communal areas… to protect the education in the classroom. Facemasks are not a panacea… these are all interventions that just help you slow the virus… from accelerating too quickly. Just to give the scientists a bit more time, a bit more headroom to actually decide what do we need to do next.’

The Education Secretary said he disagreed with the idea that there should be a return of bubbles in schools, as ‘that reduces attendance significantly, materially’. On school Christmas concerts, he said: ‘My very strong advice is if you (are) organising nativities, carry on.’ 

He told BBC Good Morning Britain: ‘We obviously have some travel history on some of the cases, I don’t have all of that detail available to me at this stage, but on some of the cases we are aware that there is no travel history involved on some of the cases.

‘So what that tells us is that there must be a degree of community transmission of this particular strain of the virus in the absence of direct travel connection for some of the cases in the southern African area.

‘So that obviously opens up further challenges for us in terms of interrupting the spread of this particular strain of the virus and that will be the focus of the contact tracing operation that is under way already.’

English health officials said the individual infected with Omicron in Essex is ‘well’ and self-isolating at home.

They are understood to have ‘some’ symptoms, but none serious enough to lead to hospitalisation.

Primary school pupils and staff in Brentwood are all being tested for Covid today as a ‘precautionary mesaure’ after the school was identified as a contact of the case.

People who visited a KFC in the area are also being asked to test themselves for the virus. 

In a rushed Downing Street press conference this weekend ministers tightened Covid restrictions in England.

But the measures stopped short of Plan B which would have brought back work from home guidance and introduced vaccine passports.

Mr Argar said he did not anticipate any more restrictions being imposed before Christmas, adding he was still ‘look forward’ to spending it with family and friends. 

Asked if the Government might tighten up the rules even further in the next three weeks, Mr Argar told Sky News: ‘It’s not something I’m anticipating.’

In a round of interviews this morning, he said the new restrictions were ‘proportionate’ and showed ministers were ‘on the front foot’ with slowing the variant’s spread in Britain. 

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘This virus has a nasty habit of surprising us, we know that. 

‘But we’ve also got to keep a sense of proportion and cool, calm heads as we do that scientific work to understand what may or may not be needed in the future.’

On whether the Government should be moving to its Plan B, Mr Argar said: ‘In the current circumstances, we don’t see that that is needed at this point because there is no evidence yet that the vaccine is ineffective against this new variant.’ 

Scientists say B.1.1.529 has a ‘horrific’ set of 32 mutations that likely make it ultra-transmissible and more vaccine resistant than other variants. But this is yet to be confirmed by lab tests.

Epidemiologist Meaghan Kall at the UK Health Security Agency — which took over from Public Health England — said several hundred cases and at least two weeks were needed to establish whether the variant is more transmissible and more likely to trigger hospitalisation than other strains.

This is because it takes around two weeks for someone who has caught the virus to develop symptoms that are serious enough to lead to hospitalisation. It takes around four weeks for someone to die from the disease.

Most cases of B.1.1.529 in South Africa are in young people and university students, who are less likely to develop serious disease or die if they catch the variant compared to the over-80s.  

Britain’s vaccine taskforce — the JCVI — is today expected to announce that booster doses are to be offered to all over-18s. They are currently available for the over-40s.

They could also reduce the gap between second and third dose from six months to five. 

Committee member Professor Jeremy Brown said the gap was in place to make sure the top up was effective and went to those who are most at risk from the virus first.

He told Times Radio: ‘So the reason for the gap is to ensure that we target the most susceptible people first for a booster vaccination.

‘The logic for maybe changing the gap… this variant the Omicron variant is now present in the world, it hasn’t reached the UK in high numbers, and if possible it will be good to boost a lot of people’s antibody levels to high levels to give them the maximum chance of not getting infected with this new variant. 

Three women wearing face masks on a London Underground train during the morning commute today

Three women wearing face masks on a London Underground train during the morning commute today 

Unions have warned the current Transport for London requirement for masks to be worn was being 'openly ignored' on a large scale. But today pictures suggested most commuters were wearing them

Unions have warned the current Transport for London requirement for masks to be worn was being ‘openly ignored’ on a large scale. But today pictures suggested most commuters were wearing them

In September, Network Rail found that just 20% of people were still wearing masks on trains, but this morning most passengers at Waterloo Station had their faces covered. Those without masks may be medically exempt

In September, Network Rail found that just 20% of people were still wearing masks on trains, but this morning most passengers at Waterloo Station had their faces covered. Those without masks may be medically exempt

Dutch police arrest couple who fled Omicron quarantine hotel

Dutch police have arrested a couple who ‘fled’ an Omicron quarantine hotel and boarded a flight out of Holland — as the super-mutant strain spreads to three continents in almost as many weeks. 

Local border police said they arrested the pair at  Schiphol Airport after they ran from a hotel where Covid positive passengers from South Africa were being quarantined.

‘The arrests took place as the plane was about to take off,’ the Marechaussee police force said on Twitter, adding that the pair had been handed over to the public health authority.

France’s Health Ministry said on Sunday it had detected eight possible cases of the Omicron Covid variant across the country after the government announced it would tighten restrictions to contain its spread.

And two cases of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, first detected in Southern Africa last week, have been confirmed in Canada, provincial health officials said on Sunday.

Omicron is potentially more contagious than previous variants, although experts do not know yet if it will cause more or less severe Covid compared to other strains.

‘They are being considered as possibly being contaminated with the Omicron variant having been to southern Africa in the last 14 days,’ the French health Ministry said in a statement.

It said further tests were being carried out to fully confirm it was Omicron, but the people and those they had been in contact with were now in isolation.

France is in the midst of a fifth wave of the virus. It recorded more than 31,600 positive Covid cases on Sunday having seen a sharp rise in the number of patients in intensive care the previous day. 

‘So that might be a reason for reducing the gap. Between the second dose and the booster dose.

‘And so basically vaccinate people ahead of a possible Omicron wave which will be coming at some point.’

Experts are looking for a ‘goldilocks period’, or the moment when a booster jab triggers the best protection possible against Covid.

Professor Brown added: ‘There are advantages of having a longer gap and there are advantages of a shorter gap, and this is sort of a “Goldilocks period” that we need to try and hit because if we make it too short, then the longer-term benefit of boosting antibodies to higher levels — which occurs when there’s a bigger gap — will be lost.

‘But then (if) we make it too long then we don’t get the boost occurring at the time when the Omicron is not in the country and it’s just about to arrive, so it’s a little tricky.’

He added that the ‘limiting step’ was vaccine delivery, adding: ‘You can’t say “I would like to vaccinate the entire country and the next day it gets done”. It has to be done in a period of time. So there’s a there’s a delivery issue here as well.

‘It’s very important to make sure people are vaccinated are those most at risk.’ 

Professor Sir Mark Walport, who is a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) advising Government, told Sky News there was ‘good cause to be concerned’ about Omicron.

He said it ‘makes sense to try and hold it back’ though it will be ‘impossible to stop it spreading around the world if it is much more infectious than the Delta variant’.

He said the most important thing people in the UK could do was to have vaccines and take measures such as wearing masks.

Asked if people should be told to wear masks in pubs and restaurants, he said: ‘If you are in a small, poorly ventilated enclosed space, it makes sense to wear a mask. Clearly when you are drinking and eating it’s not possible to do that but if you’re moving around, then absolutely.

‘We know that infection happens in closed spaces indoors and of course, as it gets colder, people are more likely to be indoors and they’re less likely to have the windows open.

‘So if you’re going to wear masks in shops, it makes sense to wear them in other places as well.’

Several countries have imposed travel restrictions following the emergence of the variant — with Israel and Japan being the first to bring in restrictions for all those arriving from abroad.

Russia’s Covid taskforce said today it was also set to announce new restrictions related to the Omicron variant. 

Omicron has now been spotted in some 11 countries, with scientists warning it has likely been spreading around the world for some days. 

New Covid travel rules face furious backlash from air industry who warn ‘knee-jerk’ decision will leave passengers facing ‘huge hardship’ – as PCR test firms hike prices within hours of announcement

By Mark Duell for MailOnline and David Churchill for the Daily Mail

Travel bosses today warned tougher Covid-19 restrictions on global travel have been ‘completely ineffective in the past’, amid the return of PCR tests from tomorrow.

The travel curbs come just weeks after costly PCR swabs for returning travellers were ditched on October 24 and replaced with much cheaper rapid lateral flow tests.

But there is now a growing backlash after Boris Johnson said all travellers, regardless of vaccination status, will have to take PCR tests by day two of their UK arrival.

Travellers must self-isolate at home until they get their result, although critics have pointed out that they can travel to their quarantine location by public transport.

The rule was announced on Saturday and comes into force at 4am tomorrow in a bid by ministers to better track any spread of the feared new Omicron variant.   

The average cost of a single PCR swab among more than 450 providers listed on the Government website today was £83 – up by 5 per cent or £4 from £79 yesterday.  

For a family of five this would add £415 to the cost of a trip abroad. By comparison, rapid lateral flow tests are typically about £20 to £25 – adding about £100 to £125.

One furious tourism boss branded it a ‘travel tax’, which contradicted the Prime Minister’s claim that ‘this Christmas will be better than last’.

Travellers accused Covid test companies of ‘shameless profiteering’ with some claiming the PCR price has risen by £10, £30 and £44 in three different examples. 

And Willie Walsh, the former boss of British Airways’ parent company IAG, today described the reintroduction of tighter quarantine and testing regulations as a ‘knee-jerk decision’ which imposes ‘huge hardship’ on travellers. 

Mr Walsh, who is currently director-general of airline trade body the International Air Transport Association, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I’m very disappointed to see this knee-jerk reaction by governments to the latest development. 

Travellers line up at London Heathrow Airport's Terminal Two this morning

Travellers line up at London Heathrow Airport’s Terminal Two this morning

A Covid testing centre sign is seen at London Heathrow Airport's Terminal Five yesterday

A Covid testing centre sign is seen at London Heathrow Airport’s Terminal Five yesterday

People wait at Heathrow Terminal Five yesterday ahead of the new travel rules coming in

People wait at Heathrow Terminal Five yesterday ahead of the new travel rules coming in

‘It’s clear that these measures have been completely ineffective in the past but impose huge hardship on people who are trying to connect with families and friends, and clearly massive financial damage to the tourism and airline industry.’

What are the new test rules for UK arrivals? 

From 4am tomorrow, fully-vaccinated people entering the UK will be required to self-isolate until they receive a negative result from a PCR test taken on the second day after they arrive.

The tests must be bought from the private sector, typically costing around £55.

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.

People who are unvaccinated will continue to need one pre-departure test and two post-arrival PCR tests, and must quarantine for 10 days.

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

Arrivals from those locations must stay in a quarantine hotel for 10 days at a cost of £2,285 for solo travellers.

Mr Walsh said the failure of similar requirements to prevent a second coronavirus wave in the UK after being implemented in May last year demonstrates they ‘do not have any long-term benefits’ and are ‘not the answer’.

He continued: ‘I think sensible testing regimes which have been proven to be effective could be introduced which would enable people to continue travelling in a safe environment.

‘It’s disappointing that the Government does not reflect on the significant data that they have available.’

Ministers have been also told by travel bosses and MPs that the cost of PCR tests should be slashed to stop families being priced out of going abroad this Christmas.

The Government has been urged to either cap prices of the ‘gold standard’ swabs, axe VAT on them or allow holidaymakers to use free NHS ones.

The new travel curbs will increase testing bills by hundreds of pounds. 

Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy the PC Agency, said: ‘One of the best things the government could do is remove VAT on PCR tests to make it less costly for people to travel.’

Of the new restrictions, he added: ‘It’s the Christmas present nobody wanted in the sector and it wipes out inbound tourism due to the quarantine while awaiting test results.’

Guidance issued by the Government last night said that, if travellers’ test results are delayed, they must stay in self-isolation until they receive them or until two weeks after arrival – whichever is soonest. 

Anyone with a positive result must self-isolate at home for ten days. The new rules relate to people who are fully vaccinated.

Non-fully vaccinated travellers must take a pre-return test and two PCR tests on days two and eight while self-isolating at home for ten days.

What are the new rules that will come into force tomorrow? 

  • Face coverings will be made compulsory on public transport and in shops, banks and hairdressers – but not in pubs and restaurants.
  • All travellers entering the UK from abroad will have to take a PCR test on the second day after their arrival and isolate until they receive a negative result.
  • People identified as contacts of suspected Omicron cases will have to isolate for 10 days regardless of their vaccination status.
  • Regulations will be laid in Parliament today before they come into force tomorrow. MPs will get a retrospective vote within the next four weeks. 

It comes as Switzerland effectively ‘red listed’ Britain by subjecting arrivals to ten days of self-quarantine.

Switzerland’s decision to ‘red list’ the UK means Britons arriving in the country will have to show proof of full vaccination, a negative Covid test and then self-isolate.

The Swiss measures – which came into force at 8pm on Saturday – were also in response to the spread of the Omicron variant.

It threatens to kill off skiing holidays, with the season beginning in Switzerland from mid to late November until late April. 

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.

Travellers heading back to Britain who have bought rapid tests thinking they would be sufficient now face having to fork out hundreds more pounds for PCR swabs.

The more expensive tests are dubbed the ‘gold standard’ because they are processed in labs and can be sequenced to detect Covid variants of concern.

But the average cost of a single swab among more than 450 providers listed on the Government website yesterday was £79. For a family of five this would add £395 to the cost of a trip abroad. 

The destination country may also require a test as a condition of entry. By comparison, rapid lateral flow tests are typically about £20 to £25.

The Government will not review the PCR requirement for three weeks, sparking fears the policy will dampen demand in the run-up to the crucial Christmas period, traditionally the second-busiest for the already hard-hit travel industry.

Common travel area is exempt from new Covid-19 restrictions 

The exemption of the common travel area from new Covid-19 restrictions against the Omicron variant has been welcomed.

New tougher measures including PCR testing will be introduced for arrivals to the UK from tomorrow morning.

All contacts with a suspected case of Omicron will have to isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status, amid concerns existing jabs will be less effective against the strain that is believed to spread rapidly.

However, this will not apply to the common travel area (CTA), which covers Great Britain, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and the Channel Islands.

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney welcomed the move and clarified that travellers from Ireland to the UK will not be affected by the measures against the new Covid-19 variant. On Saturday the Irish Department of Health announced its own measures to mitigate against Omicron, including mandatory home quarantine regardless of vaccine status.

It predicts bookings will cool off and that families worried about struggling to afford tests may be forced to re-book.

Tory MP Henry Smith, chairman of the cross-party Future of Aviation Group of MPs, told the Mail: ‘The price of PCR tests should be capped at no more than a rapid test.

‘Early signs suggest Omicron isn’t more severe as previous strains so I hope the PCR tests reintroduced for international arrivals can be removed at the three-week review.

‘That will be crucial for the travel and aviation sector’s continued recovery, particularly the important Christmas season.’

Ben Bradshaw MP, who sits on the Commons transport committee, said: ‘There should definitely be a cap, as other European countries have.

‘This will kill off demand, which was already much lower than the rest of Europe, particularly given the quarantine requirement while waiting for your PCR result.’

Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of the Advantage Travel Partnership, said: ‘What I’m failing to understand is why the government doesn’t let travellers use the free NHS PCR tests for the initial three-week period, because private providers are an absolute free-for-all, people will just be ripped off and they don’t always get their results back in time, extending their quarantine.’

The World Tourism Organisation, the United Nations’ tourism body, has warned that global revenue from international tourism this year will be less than half the pre-pandemic level of 2019. 

Abta, a trade association for tour operators and travel agents in the UK, said the added cost of testing for all arrivals to the UK will have an impact on customer demand for holidays, adding pressure to an industry which has been among the ‘hardest hit’ during the pandemic.

‘While Abta understands that this is a rapidly evolving situation and public health must come first, the decision to require all arrivals to take a PCR test and self-isolate until a negative result is returned is a huge blow for travel businesses, many of whom were only just starting to get back on their feet after 20 months of severe restrictions,’ an Abta spokesman said.

‘These changes will add cost to people’s holidays, which will undoubtedly impact consumer demand and hold back the industry’s recovery, so it’s vital that this decision is kept under careful review and restrictions are lifted promptly if it becomes clear there is not a risk to the UK vaccination programme.

‘The Government must also now consider offering tailored support for travel businesses, which have been amongst the hardest hit during the pandemic.’

A spokesman for the Laboratory and Testing Industry Organisation (LTIO), the trade body for Covid testing companies, said: ‘The LTIO believes reintroducing PCR testing for international travel is a sensible and precautionary step.

‘Our member companies are already working hard to enable passengers who have a booked antigen tests to be able to switch to PCR tests. We also want to offer our laboratories to help rapidly identify any new cases of the Omicron variant.’

MailOnline has also contacted the LTIO for reaction on accusations that test companies have been hiking prices in light of the recent PCR announcement.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk