Masks to return in English schools as third Omicron Covid case detected

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Masks To Return In English Schools As Third Omicron Covid Case Detected Masks To Return In English Schools As Third Omicron Covid Case Detected
Face coverings will be mandatory on public transport, in shops and other settings including banks, post offices and hairdressers from Tuesday morning. Photo: PA Images.
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By Sam Blewett, PA Deputy Political Editor

Masks are being recommended in England’s schools before their compulsory return to shops and public transport, as a third case of the Omicron variant of coronavirus was detected in the UK.

A further escalation of measures to combat the spread of the new strain of coronavirus was announced when staff and pupils in Year 7 and above were “strongly advised” to cover their faces in communal areas outside classrooms from Monday.

Face coverings will be mandatory on public transport and in shops and other settings including banks, post offices and hairdressers from Tuesday morning, when isolation rules will return for international arrivals until they receive a negative PCR test for Covid-19.

Close contacts of positive Omicron cases were being ordered to isolate for 10 days even if they have been vaccinated, amid concerns the variant first detected in South Africa could spread rapidly and partially evade existing jabs.

Third case detected

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A third case of the “variant of concern” was detected by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) on Sunday, this time of a person who visited Westminster in London before leaving the country. The first two were identified in Nottingham and Essex.

As officials tried to trace potential contacts of the Omicron case in Essex, the local authority urged visitors to a KFC in Brentwood on November 19th to get drive-through tests, raising questions about how long ago the variant may have arrived in the UK.

The individual in Essex was said to have been in contact with the Nottingham case, who is understood to be linked to travel to southern Africa, but officials have declined to say when that travel took place.

Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UKHSA, acknowledged it was “very likely” that further cases of Omicron would be discovered in the coming days.

A new testing regime is being introduced under emergency measures announced over the weekend to slow the spread of the new Omicron variant, following its detection by UK government scientists.

Christmas plans

Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi recommended that staff, visitors and pupils in Year 7 and above should wear masks in communal areas in schools, colleges and universities such as corridors, canteens and halls in England from Monday.

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Though the reintroduction of masks in England in shops will bring the nation back closer into line with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, they are not being required in pubs and restaurants.

Despite the reintroduction of new rules, UK health secretary Sajid Javid told families they should plan for a great Christmas “as normal”.

I think it’s going to be a great Christmas

Mr Javid said it “would be irresponsible to make guarantees” during the ever-changing pandemic, but he told Sky’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday: “I think people should continue with their plans as normal for Christmas, I think it’s going to be a great Christmas.”

With the UK government stopping short of introducing its plan B to tackle Covid-19 this winter, Mr Javid played down any need to reintroduce social distancing rules or work-from-home guidance.

“We know now those types of measures do carry a very heavy price, both economically, socially, in terms of non-Covid health outcomes such as impact on mental health,” he told Sky.

“So, if one was to make decisions like that they would have to be done very, very carefully and we’re not there yet, we’re nowhere near that.”

Britain will convene an urgent meeting of G7 health ministers on Monday to discuss Omicron.

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