Plan for Christmas as normal despite omicron Covid variant, says Sajid Javid

 Plan for Christmas as normal despite omicron Covid variant, says Sajid Javid

Families should keep planning for Christmas as normal, Sajid Javid has said as he sought to calm concerns over the new omicron variant of Covid after new restrictions were announced.

During a round of broadcast interviews on Sunday morning the Health Secretary said the country was “nowhere near” adopting tougher lockdown restrictions despite the new variant.

Mr Javid made clear the Government was not about to bring back work-from-home guidance, expand the new mask mandate to restaurants or adopt vaccine passports in England. 

He also indicated that a decision on whether the Covid booster jabs could be offered to all adults, rather than just those aged over 40, could come within days.

His comments came after Boris Johnson announced a string of new restrictions on Saturday evening as it was found two cases of omicron had been discovered in the UK.

Mask-wearing will become compulsory on public transport and in shops, people who come into contact with someone who has caught the omicron variant will have to self-isolate and travellers entering the UK from abroad will have to quarantine until they get a negative result from a day-two PCR test.

Scientists and government ministers across the world have been alarmed at the discovery of the new Covid variant early last week that has been deemed a variant of concern.

But they are also stressing it is not yet clear the degree to which omicron – which appears to have spread rapidly in areas of South Africa after discovery – could cut through current vaccines.

Mr Javid offered a note of reassurance on Sky News, saying: “I think people should continue with their plans as normal for Christmas and I think it is going to be a great Christmas.”

The Health Secretary also said that the Government was “nowhere near” bringing in restrictions such as requests for people to work from home or social distancing rules.

During his interviews Mr Javid was grilled on the details of the announcements that were made on Saturday, how exactly they would work and whether they went fast enough.

He defended the decision to make mask-wearing compulsory on public transport and in shops but not in the hospitality sector, arguing the response had to be “proportionate”.

And he said that those notified they had been in contact with someone with omicron would have to self-isolate even if they were NHS workers and lorry drivers, meaning no exemptions are expected for now.

On border rules, the Health Secretary accepted that scores of people arriving from South Africa on Friday had entered the UK without taking a Covid test.

The rule change that put the country and others on the red list only came into effect at noon on Friday, meaning flights that arrived that morning were unaffected.

Mr Javid said those people who had entered the UK from South Africa in the last 10 days were now being contacted and urged to take a Covid test.

The rule changes will be tabled in Parliament on Monday and come into effect on Tuesday, but it remains unclear when a vote of MPs will be held. 

Mr Javid said that a vote was only needed 28 days after the regulation change was tabled, meaning it may not happen until December.

He said on BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show: “The reason we’ve set out these measures yesterday is to protect the progress we’ve made so we can all continue to enjoy Christmas with our families.”

One area where change could come within the next few days is the Covid booster programme, which offers some people a third jab six months after their second dose of the vaccine. Currently, the booster jab is offered to everyone aged over 40 but that could be extended to those aged 18 to 39.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation [JCVI], an independent scientific advisory body, has been asked to look at that change as well as reducing the wait from six months to five.

Mr Javid said that a decision was expected “imminently”, adding that he had urged NHS leaders to start preparing for a major expansion in the booster campaign. 

There will also be a meeting of health ministers from the G7 Group of Nations on Monday to discuss how to respond to the emergence of omicron. 

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