UK: Mandatory masks in shops & on public transport starts Thursday

By Hamed Chapman

London, (The Muslim News): The British Government confirmed Monday that the wearing of masks in shops and on public transport is again being made mandatory in an attempt to slow the spread of the new Covid variant, Omicron. However, it came under fire in the House of Commons for removing the restriction in the first place during the summer.

Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, also told MPs that all international travellers entering the UK will again be required to take a PCR test within two days of arrival and that anyone who has been in close contact with those tests positive with the new mutation will need to self-isolate regardless of their vaccination status.

The reintroduction of measures, described as “temporary and precautionary,” comes after the number of Omicron cases in the UK rose to 11 and follows the first two cases being identified on Saturday, the day after the banning of flights from South Africa and neighbouring countries where the new variant was first discovered.

“We’ve always known that a worrying new variant could be a threat to the progress that we’ve made as a nation,” Javid said in Parliament, boasting the country was entering the winter in a “strong position, thanks to the decisions we made in the summer and the defences that we have built.”

Most of his focus was on the vaccination rollout programme, which his Government has increasingly relied upon as virtually its only policy in containing the Covid-19 pandemic. His announcement included the rapid approval of extending booster doses to all adults over 18 and a second dose for 12-17 year olds.

But voicing criticism of the Government’s new measures, Shadow Cabinet Minister for Mental Health, Rosena Allin-Khan, said that wearing masks should never have been made voluntary on public transport in the first place, that sick pay is still in adequate, and that there should be compulsory pre-departure Covid tests for people flying into the UK.

Shadow Cabinet Minister for Mental Health, Rosena Allin-Khan, criticising Govt’s new measures to contain Omicron variant in Parliament on November 29. Credit :Jessica Taylor/UK-Parliament

Allin-Khan also criticised Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, for his record of failing to wear masks, including even putting people at risk in a recent hospital visit. She questioned how the Government could announces mandatory face mask wearing for the public, when its own backbench MPs still refuse to wear them in Parliament.

Several MPs criticised the low vaccine rates in poorer countries, including former Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, who said it amounted to a “moral and practical failure” by richer countries which countries have “managed to vaccinate 60% of their populations when for poorer countries it is just 3%.”

Questions have also been raised about exaggerating the scare surrounding the Omicron variant, when the South African Doctor and Chair of the South African Medical Association, Angelique Coetzee, who raised the original alarm, suggested that symptoms are ‘unusual but mild’ among otherwise healthy patients.

Announcing the measures, Javid said that they would be reviewed “after three weeks to see whether they’re still necessary” but also warned that Covid was “not going away, and so we’ll have to keep seeing new variants emerge.”

Photo: Health Secretary Sajid Javid making statement on new Covid variant Omicron in Parliament on November 29. Credit :Jessica Taylor/UK-Parliament

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