Boris Johnson urges Brits to mask up as heavily mutated Omicron variant hits UK

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Boris Johnson has urged Brits to tighten up use of face masks and get jabbed to combat the spread of the Omicron variant.

His announcement will come as a relief to those who feared another lockdown was to be brought in with immediate effect.

Instead action against Omicron will be precautionary with tougher rules on testing after travel, as well as vaccines and booster jabs.

Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said a renewed pushed for jabs is intended to "bolster" the UK's defence in a three-week blitz against the new variant.

The Prime Minister said "We're not going to stop people travelling" but we will require anyone coming to the UK, to take a PCR test on their second day of arrival and isolate until they have a negative result.

Despite encouraging statistics of falling hospitalisations and number of deaths in the UK, the new Omicron variant poses a serious risk to the public.

At the conference delivered alongside England's Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, Johnson said: "This Christmas will be considerably better than last Christmas."

He did not go as far as firmly ruling out a lockdown however.

Two cases of the Omicron variant feared to have higher re-infection rates have been detected in Brentwood, Essex and Nottingham, the UK Health Security Agency confirmed.

Both cases are believed to be connected and linked to travel to southern Africa, as the government adds four countries in the region to its travel red list.

Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola will face travel restrictions from Sunday.

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The individuals and their households were ordered into self-isolation and targeted testing was being carried out in areas where they are thought to have been infectious.

Before the PM's announcement, experts warned that history could repeat itself a year after the Alpha variant triggered a Christmas lockdown.

Prof Adam Finn, of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said: "We all need to be ready for the possibility of a change in the restrictions."

Prof Sharon Peacock, director of the Covid-19 Genomics UK Consortium, added: "Once a new variant of concern emerges, and it's fitter than the previous variant, it can be difficult to stop it going into a country unless you have very, very lockdown rules."

Health Secretary Javid told reporters earlier "this is a real reminder that this pandemic is far from over" and urged people to get their vaccines, including boosters.

He said: "We were concerned from the moment we first identified this new variant."

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