Mandatory Wearing Of Face Masks Returns To England
Following the recent announcement by the Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the mandatory wearing of face masks returns to England today. We are also expected to receive news on the Covid booster jab plans later today from a follow up press conference.
These changes follow the announcement of the new Omicron variant of the virus. As Covid cases began rising in November. This Monday, over 42 thousand cases were reported. As a result, there has been increasing concern of changes to the Covid rules in the UK.
What are the new rules for Covid in the UK?
There have been three new primary changes to the current measures to mitigate any impact of the new Covid variant.
- Any international arrivals are required to take a PCR test before day 2 of their arrival back in the UK and self-isolate until they receive a negative result.
- Anyone who has had contact with a suspected Omicron case must self-isolate. This is regardless of their vaccination status.
- Face masks will once again be compulsory in shops and on public transport.
This means that whether you have an NHS Covid pass or not, you will be required to isolate. There has been no statement as to whether taking a lateral flow test will be sufficient to allow you to avoid isolation or not.
While masks will be compulsory in shops, at present hospitality settings such as pubs and restaurants are exempt from imposing any restrictions.
What is the best face mask to wear?
There are a great many options in the reusable face mask field, as well as guides on DIY face masks. However, studies have shown these masks are not as effective as medical face masks (also known as surgical face masks). While the best fabric face masks may block up to 70% of particles breathed out, Type IIR face masks block over 98% and offer significantly more protection as a result.
How long will the restrictions last?
The government has advised the current restrictions will be reviewed in three weeks. For the time being people are being encouraged to book their Covid vaccines and arrange their boosters if they are eligible. You can book your vaccine through the NHS website.
It may be some solace that at present there are no plans to implement another lockdown. When queried about the possibility of the impacts of the new restrictions on Christmas, Boris Johnson said "I’m pretty confident to absolutely confident this Christmas will be considerably better than last Christmas.”
What we know about the new Covid variant
The new virus variant, known as Omicron was first seen in South Africa. Initial reports have shown an increased rate of hospitalisation of those infected. At this stage is seems unclear if the rapid rise in infections is due to the virus having increased transmission rate or if there could be other factors involved.
What is worrying scientists around the world is the number of mutations this variant has developed to its spike proteins.
Spike proteins are the small structures on the outside of a virus that help it to merge with the cells of an infected host. Vaccines are developed to train our body to recognise these spike proteins for a given virus. This allows our immune system to attack any instance of this virus in our body.
The problem with the latest variant is that it has 30 mutations to this spike proteins. Some of these are present in other variants of the virus, but some are novel. It is not yet known what impact these mutations will have on the efficacy of our current vaccines.