COVID-19: Sajid Javid defends not imposing stricter restrictions to combat Omicron variant
The health secretary has said it is going to be a “great Christmas” as he defended not imposing stricter restrictions to combat the new COVID variant.
Sajid Javid told Sky News’ Trevor Phillips On Sunday it would be “irresponsible to make guarantees” but the measures announced this week in reaction to the Omicron variant will “buy us time” to enable scientists to assess it.
“People should continue with their plans as normal for Christmas, I think it’s going to be a great Christmas,” he said.
Mr Javid said he did not think stricter measures needed to be imposed just yet as social distancing and work from home directives “carry a very heavy price, economically, socially, in terms of non-COVID health outcomes”.
“If one was to make decisions like that they’d have to be made very, very carefully, we’re not there yet, we’re nowhere near that,” he added.
The new measures are:
• Anyone arriving in the UK will have to take a PCR test and self-isolate until they get a negative result
• From Tuesday, face coverings will also be compulsory in shops and on public transport in England
• Those who come into contact with someone who tests positive for the Omicron variant will need to self-isolate for 10 days, even if they are fully vaccinated – this will be introduced “as soon as possible”
• South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia are now on the red list so arrivals will have to quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days at a cost of £2,285
Mr Javid said he expects to receive new advice “imminently” from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) on whether boosters should be extended to all over-18s, whether the waiting time before a booster jab should be reduced and if second doses should be offered to 12-15 year olds in light of the new variant.
“I’ve also asked the NHS to prepare for much greater capacity in our vaccination programme,” Mr Javid told The Andrew Marr Show on the BBC.
Challenged on whether people will listen to the mask mandate given a drop in the public wearing masks, Mr Javid told Phillips: “This is about protecting the progress we’ve made.
“You said in your estimation about a third of people don’t wear masks but I would think you probably haven’t been taking those soundings since people have begun to understand more about this new variant and why the government has thought these new measures are appropriate.
“I do think people will take this more seriously and I think that will apply to public transport, it will apply to shops, it will be a regulation as it has been before.
“But it’s important to react in a proportionate, and also a temporary way, I hope this is something we can remove within weeks.”
Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy told the programme the reason the Omicron variant has emerged is due to a “lack of global leadership” as she accused the government of failing to deliver on promises to get 100 million vaccines to the rest of the world.
She said Labour has asked Mr Javid to look at whether other countries in southern Africa should be added to the red list.
Ms Nandy also said Labour has demanded the government comes up with a plan to check on the PCR tests travellers must take, take action on improving ventilation in public buildings, require pre-departure tests and provide advice for how people should travel back from the airport.