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Covid news – live: Officials advise cutting social time due to omicron, as PM insists new rules ‘buy us time’

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Minister insists Christmas ‘on track’, despite concerns over omicron variant

Britons are being urged to reduce the amount of time they spend socialising, with health officials warning this change could help to limit how quickly the new omicron Covid variant is able to spread.

Dr Jenny Harries, head of the UK’s Health Security Agency, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme earlier that people ought to consider changing their “winter behaviours” and “not socialising when we don’t particularly need to”.

Her advice was backed up by Prof Adam Finn, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), who later told Sky News the next few weeks should be considered “a time for people to be careful to stay at home when they can to avoid contact with others”.

It comes as the government’s measures to combat the variant came into force at 4am on Tuesday, with face masks becoming mandatory once again in England’s shops and settings such as post offices, hairdressers and public transport. In a tweet, the PM described the new rules – which include tighter border controls – as “proportionate and responsible” and said they “buy us time in the face of this new variant”.

Follow our live coverage below

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New rules for travellers to Hong Kong, India, and Ecuador

Hong Kong, India and Ecuador have introduced new strict rules for international arrivals in response to the omicron variant.

The rules involve many stipulations and exemptions – depending on which country a person is travelling from, and their vaccination status – so check out the report here by Helen Coffey for the full details:

It comes after Japan, Morocco and Israel banned international visitors entirely amid fears that omicron could be more transmissible – and able to evade immunity – than the dominant delta variant.

Also, Switzerland has imposed a 10-day quarantine on all British travellers, while Spain has said only double-jabbed Brits will be permitted to enter the country.

Lamiat Sabin30 November 2021 12:40

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‘Mask rule ought to apply to hospitality sector’ – Unite union

Trade union Unite has called for face coverings to also become mandatory in pubs, cafes and restaurants after they were not included in the rule change.

General secretary Sharon Graham said: “We must ask why hospitality is the only area in the public arena where face masks are not compulsory.

“Does the Government consider the health and safety of hospitality workers less of a priority than that of workers in other sectors?

“It is outrageous that hospitality workers are being left to police the wearing of face masks due to the lack of proper mandatory rules or effective legislation.”

Lamiat Sabin30 November 2021 12:30

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Member of public suggests face masks ‘distraction’ from Tory sleaze

Public opinion is still very much split on the use of face masks in public settings, as one man demonstrated this morning.

Marc Zinnendor, who was travelling from Paddington to Kingham, in Oxfordshire, told the PA news agency he has no intention of starting to wear a face mask again.

“I never wear them,” the 52-year-old said. “They don’t work, they’re just a distraction from the Peppa Pig World disaster and all the Tory sleaze accusations. I think [Boris Johnson] just wanted to get Covid back into the headlines, that’s my take on it. I work in strategy, that’s exactly what I would do.”

Mr Zinnendor, who works in telecommunications, described face masks as “courtesy coverings”, saying the rules on them don’t add up.

“It’s pretty pointless – you go on a train, you have to wear them, then you go to the office, you don’t have to wear them, you go to the restaurant, you don’t have to wear them, you go to a shop, you have to wear them,” he said.

“There’s no consistency in any of that.”

Commuters walk over London Bridge station on the morning face masks became mandatory once more in England

(EPA)

Lamiat Sabin30 November 2021 12:15

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ICYMI: Watch WHO say omicron variant shows how ‘perilous’ Covid is

Omicron variant shows just how ‘perilous’ Covid situation is, WHO says

Sam Hancock30 November 2021 12:01

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Greece to make Covid jabs obligatory for over-60s

Greece is to make Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory for people aged 60 and over, in a drastic move to stem a new surge in coronavirus cases.

The measure will come into force each month from 16 January, with anyone in that age group who is not vaccinated facing a 100 euro (£85) fine.

Greece becomes the second European country, after Austria, to make such a move.

Sam Hancock30 November 2021 11:44

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‘Hokey cokey’: Sadiq Khan urges government to keep up mask mandate

The Mayor of London has warned the government against enforcing, and then changing, rules on mandatory face masks in England – as has been the custom in previous waves of Covid infections.

Said Khan said he didn’t want a “hokey cokey on mask wearing, where the government reviews and increases rules each time”.

“As far as I’m concerned, on public transport, because more often than not we’ve got to be confined and can’t maintain social distancing, let’s keep it mandatory – with the backup of the police and with the backup of fines.”

He continued that this should remain the case even if in three weeks time, omicron is discovered to be “less of a risk than people think”.

Sam Hancock30 November 2021 11:41

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Boris Johnson to address nation at 4pm

Boris Johnson will give a Covid press briefing from Downing Street this afternoon, during which he is expected to defend new measures brought in across England and encourage unvaccinated individuals to take up their jabs.

He will also encourage those who have already received two doses of a jab to accept the offer of a third, so-called booster shot when it is given to them.

The PM will speak at around 4pm.

Sam Hancock30 November 2021 11:33

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First suspected omicron case found in South Korea – report

Over to South Korea now, where health authorities believe they have detected the first case of the omicron Covid variant as the nation moved to tighten its entry restrictions for Africa.

Officials conducted a genome sequencing test on a couple who recently arrived in the east Asian nation from Nigeria and had tested positive for Covid.

The couple, who were fully vaccinated, visited Nigeria on 14 to 23 November and tested positive last Thursday, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

Tests were under way to establish if they have contracted the omicron variant, the KDCA said. The result will be announced on Wednesday.

Sam Hancock30 November 2021 11:31

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Britons risk waiting up to six months for booster jabs, prof warns

A professor is warning that despite reduced interval time between second jabs and boosters, it will likely still be “a period of months” before some people are called forward.

Robert Dingwall, professor of sociology at Nottingham Trent University, pointed to issues such as a number of vaccine hubs having “reverted to their everyday use” and volunteers returning to work as reason for this.

“I don’t think it’s going to be possible to get the same kind of speed and capacity as we as we saw earlier [in the year],” the academic told talkRadio.

“So allowing people to get jabs from three months after their last dose, in practice, I suspect that most, mostly it will be for four or five, even six months.”

Having said that, Prof Dingwall said he “certainly” encouraged anybody who is invited “to come forward and to take up the offer” of a booster jab.

Sam Hancock30 November 2021 11:24

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Uni of Oxford insists AstraZeneca vaccine can be updated ‘if necessary’

Following my earlier post (just before 10am) about potential new Covid vaccines, the University of Oxford has said it can “rapidly” update its jab with AstraZeneca “if it should be necessary”.

“Due to the very recent discovery of the new omicron strain of coronavirus, there are limited data available at this time,” a spokesperson for the university said, adding:

“As with any new variant, we will carefully evaluate the implications of the emergence of B.1.1.529 for vaccine immunity.

“Despite the appearance of new variants over the past year, vaccines have continued to provide very high levels of protection against severe disease and there is no evidence so far that omicron is any different.”

They insisted scientists at the university “have the necessary tools and processes in place for rapid development of an updated Covid-19 vaccine if it should be necessary”.

Sam Hancock30 November 2021 10:55

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