The Government of the United Kingdom Sunday announced it would convene an “emergency meeting” to address the coronavirus Omicron variant and the new health map resulting from it.
The British Ministry of Health explained it wanted to confer at the earliest with its colleagues from the United States, Canada, Germany, France, Italy and Japan, something which will take place Nov. 29, it was confirmed, as cases related to the new strain have been detected in the Netherlands, Italy and Germany and other European countries.
In the UK, the British Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has confirmed three cases so far. While the pandemic has already claimed more than five million lives worldwide since the end of 2019, the arrival last week of the omicron variant was considered “of concern” Friday by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Since it was first identified in South Africa, many countries have either closed their borders with it or banned flights there or to nearby Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi, and Angola.
Under the British presidency, an urgent meeting of G7 Health Ministers has been convened on Monday, November 29 to discuss the evolution of the omicron, the British Government has said in a statement.
In addition to the G7 delegates, representatives from the European Union are expected to join as guests at the conference which is expected to take place in a virtual format.
As a result of Omicron's appearance, the British Government has returned to the reintroduction of face masks at some indoor spaces, PCR testing when returning from abroad even for those vaccinated and accelerating booster doses of the vaccine on the rest of the population.
Only British nationals may fly back home from those African countries, but they must all undergo a mandatory quarantine at hotels which will be designated by the authorities and paid for by the involuntary guests. The blacklisted countries are South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Angola, Mozambique, Malawi, and Zambia.
South Africa alerted the world to Omicron on Friday after seeing a sharp spike in cases over a week, possibly associated with the new variant, which has a significant number of mutations. There is concern these mutations will render current vaccines less effective.
The U.K. statement announcing the meeting also confirmed that face coverings in the country will now be mandatory in shops, banks, post offices, hairdressers and on public transport starting Tuesday. Face masks will also be “strongly advised” for use by secondary school students, staff and visitors.
Also starting Tuesday, all travellers returning to the U.K. from any country will be required to take a PCR test regardless of vaccination status, as well as self-isolate until they test negative. Free National Health Service tests will not be made available.