New variant fears mean compulsory face masks are back for English stores
The UK has announced new measures to try to slow the spread of the new Omicron Covid variant and the country’s top health official said vaccines could be less effective against it.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson also announced that visitors from all countries will have to self-isolate until they get a negative PCR test result, while face masks must be worn in retail settings in England.
It presents retailers with a dilemma as to whether they try to actively enforce the rules around mask wearing or not. Previously, when it was compulsory to wear a mask inside shops, some retailers reported aggression from customers who refused to wear them.
It made many retailers unwilling to be proactive about sticking to the rules.
"We need to buy time for our scientists to understand exactly what we are dealing with," Johnson said on Saturday.
England's Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty told the same news conference the newly identified variant could be more resistant to vaccines. However, it’s clear that there’s still a lot that’s unknown about the variant and there seems to be a degree of confidence that the vaccines will still prevent serious illness.
Health minister Sajid Javid had earlier confirmed the first two cases of the new variant in Britain and that they were linked to travel from southern Africa. A further seven cases have since been announced.
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