Boris Johnson brings back face masks for shops and transport – follow live

Mask-wearing back for shops and transport, PM announces

Face coverings are to be made mandatory in shops and on public transport in England, Boris Johnson has announced, amid “temporary and precautionary” measures to combat the new Omicron variant of coronavirus.

It comes after the first two cases – which are “linked” and have been connected to travel to southern Africa – were located in England late last night.

Addressing the nation at a Downing Street press conference, the PM also revealed that all arrivals into the UK will be required to take a PCR test once more and isolate at home until a negative Covid result has been confirmed. A review into all these new rules will be conducted in three weeks, he added.

The measures have, however, been criticised by many who believe they do not go far enough to tackle the “extremely transmissible” variant. Prof Susan Michie, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said the precautions were “Plan B Lite when we should have had Plan B Plus”. She told BBC News she was “very surprised [Mr Johnson] hasn’t gone further”.

Follow our live coverage below


Good morning and welcome to The Independent’s live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

The UK is bracing for the arrival of the new Omicron Covid-19 variant first detected in southern Africa.

Stay tuned for rolling updates on the latest news and statistics throughout the day.

Chiara Giordano27 November 2021 08:42


UK braces for arrival of omicron variant

The UK is bracing for the arrival of the potentially more dangerous and transmissible new Covid variant, as Europe has recorded its first case.

In Whitehall, the Covid-19 taskforce has been scrambling to examine what restrictions could be implemented if the variant displaces delta and takes hold in the UK, while scientific advisers to the government have warned that new measures are needed now.

Our science correspondent Samuel Lovett and economic editor Anna Isaac have more on this story:

UK braces for expected arrival of new Covid variant

Whitehall officials have been placed on a ‘war footing’ and told to start weighing future restrictions to be implemented if the variant eventually takes hold, while leading scientists have called for pre-emptive action

Chiara Giordano27 November 2021 08:46


Six African countries added to travel red list

The UK government has responded to an alert about Omicron – a new coronavirus variant of concern – by putting a flight ban on South Africa and adding the country, and five neighbours, to the travel “red list”.

British and Irish citizens or residents arriving from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe after 4am on Sunday 29 November will be required to book and pay for a UK government-approved hotel quarantine facility for 10 days.

Anyone else who has been in those six countries in the past 10 days will be denied entry to the UK.

Our travel correspondent Simon Calder explains the restrictions in more detail here:

Chiara Giordano27 November 2021 08:49


Covid vaccine developer says jab could be tweaked in 100 days

The company that developed the Pfizer Covid-19 shot has said it could manufacture and distribute a new version of its jab within 100 days if the new omicron variant is found to make existing vaccines less effective.

BioNTech’s comment came as B.1.1.529, newly named after the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet, was declared a variant of concern by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which said it appeared to be highly transmissible.

Rory Sullivan has more on this story:

Chiara Giordano27 November 2021 09:04


Omicron variant may not evade booster jabs or two proper doses, says expert

Professor Calum Semple, who advises the government as part of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), told BBC Breakfast: “It’s very early days, we’ve only known about this virus for a few weeks.

“The evidence is it’s not causing more death and that’s important.

“The problem this might present is it might evade some of the vaccines but it might not evade the boosters or the two proper doses.”

He encouraged people to go and get their coronavirus booster vaccines.

Chiara Giordano27 November 2021 09:28


New variant will get to UK ‘by hook or crook’, says expert

Speaking about the decision to place six countries on the red travel list, Professor Calum Semple, who advises the government as part of Sage, told BBC Breakfast: “If you can slow the virus coming into the country because you’re timed for the booster campaign to get ahead of it, and it leaves the scientists to see if there is anything to worry about, which it doesn’t seem it.

“The virus will get here by hook or crook, eventually, it will come here as people are asymptomatic, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and slow it down.”

He said he is an advocate of masks and hand-washing and said: “I feel particularly uncomfortable on public transport. I’m pro-mask in the shops and public transport. We still have high levels of coronavirus but the vaccines are working.”

Chiara Giordano27 November 2021 09:48


New vaccine to combat omicron variant could begin ‘very rapidly’, says Oxford scientist

Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, the director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, said a new vaccine to combat omicron could begin “very rapidly” if required.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The processes of how one goes about developing a new vaccine are increasingly well oiled.

“So if it’s needed that is something that could be moved very rapidly.”

Chiara Giordano27 November 2021 10:02


Omicron variant ‘extremely unlikely to reboot pandemic’ in UK, says vaccine expert

It is “extremely unlikely” the Omicron variant will trigger a major new wave of the Covid pandemic in the UK, a vaccine expert has said, despite the sudden return of travel restrictions.

Professor Andrew Pollard revealed his “optimism” that current vaccines will continue to prevent serious disease – and suggested Omicron will not outrun the dominant Delta variant in Europe.

Our deputy political editor has the full story:

Chiara Giordano27 November 2021 10:22


Expert cautiously optimistic existing vaccines could prevent serious disease from omicron variant

Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, the director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, expressed cautious optimism that existing vaccines could be effective at preventing serious disease from the Omicron variant.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that most of the mutations are in similar regions seen in other variants so far, adding: “That tells you that despite those mutations existing in other variants the vaccines have continued to prevent serious disease as we’ve moved through Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta.

“At least from a speculative point of view we have some optimism that the vaccine should still work against a new variant for serious disease but really we need to wait several weeks to have that confirmed.

“It’s extremely unlikely that a reboot of a pandemic in a vaccinated population like we saw last year is going to happen.”

Chiara Giordano27 November 2021 10:36


Labour calls on government to boost UK’s Covid defences

The Labour Party has called on the government to boost the country’s Covid-19 defences after a new variant was discovered in South Africa.

The new strain – designated Omicron – has been named as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organisation.

Health secretary Sajid Javid said the government was still following its Plan A for managing Covid-19 this autumn, but Labour is calling for more to be done.

A Labour spokesman said the party is asking the government to carry out four steps to “redouble their efforts to protect the public through strengthening the country’s vaccination programme”.

It wants the date people are eligible for booster vaccines to be brought forward to five months, immediate clarity on whether people under 40 will be eligible for a booster and from when, immediate clarity from the JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) on the rollout of the vaccine to children under 12 and a plan to ensure all hospitals have an adequate supply of antiviral drugs.

Chiara Giordano27 November 2021 11:06

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