Omicron Variant: The new rules and restrictions in England

With the arrival of the Omicron variant ahead of Christmas, the government has once again put new rules for safety in place.

With the looming possibility of another immense COVID-19 infections wave caused by the new Omicron variant, the UK government has taken a few stringent steps to avoid it.

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Red list countries

Countries with a large number of confirmed Omicron variant cases have been placed on the UK’s travel red list. These include:

  • Angola
  • Botswana
  • Eswatini
  • Lesotho
  • Malawi
  • Mozambique
  • Namibia
  • South Africa
  • Zambia
  • Zimbabwe

Entry to the UK has been banned from these countries except for UK and Irish nationals and those who are resident in the UK.

Arrivals from red list countries must observe managed quarantine for 10 days (11 nights) in government-approved hotels. The hotel quarantine arrangements must be made in advance of travelling to the UK, and the relevant details must be entered in the passenger locator form.

Mandatory PCR tests for travellers

Very recently, until the discovery of the Omicron variant, fully vaccinated travellers were permitted to use the quicker and cheaper antigen tests for Day 2 testing after arriving in the UK.

Now, the government has stated that only PCR tests may be used for Day 2 testing.

Day 2 PCR tests are mandatory for all fully vaccinated travellers arriving in the UK from non-red list countries.

These post-arrival COVID-19 tests must be done within the second day of entering the UK, and until a negative result is produced, the travellers must quarantine at home.

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Wearing masks

Wearing masks and observing social distancing had become the norm for quite some time. At least until the vaccination programme proved to be successful in providing protection against COVID-19.

Everyone visiting and working in shops, plus everyone on public transports must wear face coverings. The new mask rules apply when visiting or using any of the following:

  • Banks
  • Post offices
  • Taxis
  • Surgeries
  • Vet surgeries
  • Pharmacies
  • Takeaways
  • Driving tests and lessons
  • Hairdressers
  • Tattoo parlours
  • Nail salons

Pupils in secondary school are ‘strongly advised’ to wear facial coverings in communal areas.

Masks are, however, not compulsory when visiting gyms, cinemas, restaurants, theatres or pubs.

According to Health Minister Edward Argar, extending the restriction in hospitality settings is impractical.

He said, ‘Where people are eating, drinking [they] may go to a bar to order a drink, but will often then sip the drink on their way back to their table.’

People who fail to wear face coverings where it is mandatory will be fined. The National Police Chiefs’ Council stated that the police would ensure that the rules are being followed ‘where necessary’.

‘Forces will increase officer visibility where possible in high-risk and crowded areas. If officers encounter individuals not wearing a face covering on public transport or in shops, they will engage with them, explain the risks and encourage them to comply.’

In England, the fine for a first offence is £200. With subsequent offences, the fines will double up to a maximum of £6,400.