Department of Health and Social Care face coverings guidelines

Face coverings have become mandatory again in shops and on public transport in England from today in an effort to slow the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

People arriving in the UK from abroad will now also have to take a PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result.

It comes after 14 cases of the new variant were detected in the UK. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to set out plans for the booster jab programme in England at a news conference later today.

Early evidence suggests Omicron – first found in southern Africa – has a higher re-infection risk, but scientists say it will take about three weeks before it is known how the variant impacts on the effectiveness of vaccines.

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Retail bosses have said they cannot be expected to enforce the face covering rules. Responding to the announcement of new face covering rules in England, Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “Throughout the pandemic, retailers have made the safety of staff and customers their top priority.

“Over the last 20 months, retailers have done what is necessary to keep the public safe and will continue to implement all necessary measures now and in the future.“

“Retailers will be communicating the new rules on face coverings in England through in-store signage and other channels. However, it is vital that we do not place hardworking retail staff in harm’s way, and enforcement of face coverings must remain the duty of the authorities.

“Furthermore, from tomorrow, we all have an individual responsibility to put on a face covering before entering a shop.“Retailers have worked incredibly hard to get shops and warehouses prepared for Christmas despite a variety of challenges.

“While there may be small changes in the way we shop, we ask people to be considerate and we remain confident that everyone can get what they need for a fun and festive Christmas this year.”

The mandatory wearing of face coverings in shops was lifted in July 2021, although many mobility retailers expressed their views at the time that they will continue to insist upon the use of face coverings amongst staff and customers beyond the date out of consideration for their elderly and vulnerable customers.

Mobility and access businesses throughout the UK who may have staff returning from overseas who will be affected by the reintroduction of the requirement to isolate until they have proof of a negative PCR test; and those returning from the red list countries will need to quarantine in a hotel.

Staff who are identified as a close contact of someone with the Omicron variant will have to self-isolate. Advice about whether statutory sick pay applies, and in which circumstances, is available through the ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) website.

On Monday, the UK Government announced a major expansion of the booster jab rollout as part of efforts to help stop a potential wave of infections. They are to be offered to all over-18s in the UK, while children aged 12 to 15 will be invited for a second jab.

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