England Mandates Masks Again on Public Transportation, in Stores Amid Omicron Concerns

England revived its mask mandate for public transportation and shops on Tuesday to combat the Omicron coronavirus variant that has started to pop up throughout the world, the Associated Press reported.

The U.K. is also adding new requirements for returning travelers as about 14 cases of the variant have been confirmed since the World Health Organization flagged the strain.

England's reinstated mask requirement aligns the nation closer to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, other members of the U.K. that did not loosen their COVID restrictions over the summer as drastically, AP reported. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the new measures will help "buy us time in the face" of the newly emerged variant, though it remains unclear how dangerous and widespread the strain is.

Also starting Tuesday morning, travelers entering the U.K. are required to take a PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result. Before, they were only mandated to take a lateral flow test and were not obliged to self-isolate as they awaited their results, according to AP.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

England Revives Mask Mandate
England revived its mask mandate for public transportation and shops on Tuesday to combat the Omicron coronavirus variant that has started to pop up throughout the world. Above, commuters walk past a TFL information display telling passengers that it is compulsory to wear a face mask on public transportation to help combat the coronavirus in London on November 30, 2021. Alastair Grant/AP Photo

Johnson's government announced Monday it is expanding its booster vaccine program, with a booster dose to be offered to all those 18 and over three months after people had their second jab. Up until now, only people 40 or over and those deemed clinically vulnerable were eligible for a booster shot.

The change means around 13 million more people will be eligible. So far, the U.K. has given around 17.8 million booster shots.

Johnson is expected to encourage more people to get booster shots in a press conference later Tuesday.

Jenny Harries, who heads the U.K. Health Security Agency, said while there was still uncertainty in understanding the omicron variant, officials hope that the expanding booster shots will "to some extent counter the potential drop in vaccine effectiveness we might find with this variant."

She also urged people to be cautious and reduce socializing over the holiday season if possible.

When asked if he agreed with Harries' advice for the public to change their behavior, Johnson told reporters "it's always sensible to be careful" but his government had no plans to change the "overall guidance about how people should be living their lives."

The government's scientific advisers said in October that a "Plan B"—including reintroducing government advice to work from home—should be implemented in case of a surge in infections, but the government has so far said there's been nothing to suggest this is necessary.

England Mandates Masks Again
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the new measures will help “buy us time in the face” of the Omicron variant, though it remains unclear how dangerous and widespread the strain is. Above, Johnson speaks during a press conference after cases of the new COVID-19 variant were confirmed in the United Kingdom on November 27, 2021, in London. Jeff Gilbert/Pool/Getty Images