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Masks to be worn in shops and on public transport after five cases of Omicron Covid variant confirmed in England

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Only 50% of shoppers in one Kent town wore face coverings inside today, despite the government making it compulsory to wear masks in all shops and on public transport from this morning.

Out of 100 people entering Thamesgate Shopping Centre in Gravesend, only 50 of them were complying with the re-introduced guidelines.

A time-lapse of shoppers at Thamesgate Shopping Centre in Gravesend

The precaution is because of the Omicron variant of coronavirus, which scientists believe is more transmissable and may be more resistant to vaccinations.

From yesterday it was ordered that the coverings should be worn in communal areas, such as corridors, halls and canteens, in all education settings.

This is for staff, visitors and pupils in Year 7 and above, unless they are exempt.

Frank Hill, a 74-year-old from Gravesend said: "You have to be cautious when it comes to Covid.

Collin Bardo, 67, and Frank Hill, 74
Collin Bardo, 67, and Frank Hill, 74

"It will rear its ugly head and it is a lot worse than people think.

"I wear my mask and agree with the government making it mandatory again because I think of my children and my grandchildren.

"You could be a carrier and not even know it, because of that you have to be sensible and wear a mask."

Frank's friend, Collin Bardo, agreed.

The 67-year-old, also from Gravesend, said: "You should wear your mask, it is stupid not to do it.

Face masks are compulsory again from today. Picture: iStock
Face masks are compulsory again from today. Picture: iStock

"I understand some people are exempt for health reasons but I do believe lot of people are taking the sunflower lanyard for granted."

Face masks, originally compulsory as the pandemic progressed, had been made optional after the relaxation of nearly all Covid rules in July.

Alan, a 48-year-old from the town said: "In my opinion, I don't think the rule for wearing masks should have relaxed in the first place.

"I still wear one when on public transport and when going into shops, especially into supermarkets.

"I know the hospitality industry has not been included in this latest rule, but when I go into restaurants or pubs most of the staff all seem to be wearing masks anyway.

"Nobody likes to wear masks, but if it helps with stopping the spread of covid then I think that's just the thing that we have to do."

Prime Minister Boris Johnson first made the announcement on Saturday, the day Omicron was first detected in the UK with two ocases confirmed in England, in Nottingham and Brentwood, Essex.

This was after the first reported case in the world, in South Africa, last Wednesday.

Mr Johnson said at the weekend: "We will go further in asking all of you to help contain the spread of this variant, by tightening up the rules on face coverings in shops and on public transport."

The change is for England and bring the rules closer into line with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Picture: PA
Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Picture: PA

This is one of a series of new measures coming into force from 4am today.

Another includes making even the fully vaccinated travelling from red list countries to isolate on arrival in the UK and take a PCR test.

Those who have come into contact with an individual who may have been infected with Omicron will need to self-isolate for 10 days. Again, this is even if they are fully-vaccinated.

All of these are temporary measures and will be reviewed in three weeks’ time.

The government stresses that Covid-19 spreads through the air by droplets and aerosols that are exhaled from the nose and mouth of an infected person.

The general guidance is to wear face coverings in crowded and enclosed areas where you come into contact with strangers.

Prof Neil Ferguson, of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), said he expects to see “substantially larger numbers” of Omicron in the UK in the coming days.

Mr Johnson warned Omicron appears to spread “very rapidly”, can transmit between the double-vaccinated and may partially reduce the protection of existing vaccines.

Experts hope existing vaccines will still help reduce serious disease from Omicron, but manufacturers are looking at tweaks to make them more specific to the variant.

Yesterday, health secretary Sajid Javid announced an expansion of the booster programme to allow all over 18s to get the jab three months after their second vaccine.

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