Face masks will be compulsory in shops and on public transport in England from Tuesday in response to the new Omicron variant, the health secretary has said.
Sajid Javid said PCR tests for all overseas arrivals would be required “as soon as possible” once agreed by the four nations.
The measures would help to ensure that “we can all continue to enjoy Christmas with our families”, he said.
Mr Javid added he had acted “swiftly” and “in a proportionate way”.
The government has stopped short of extending vaccine passports in England and issuing advice to work from home, which are part of its Plan B – a contingency plan if intervention on Covid is needed to protect the NHS.
Mr Javid said the face mask rules would be implemented on Tuesday but he hoped all the new measures could be lifted again “within weeks”.
He said the government would take further “swift action in a proportionate way wherever necessary” but he did not think working from home guidance was needed.
While he said the reintroduction of PCR tests for travelers was waiting on approval from the four nations, the government website said it would be a requirement from 04:00 GMT on Tuesday.
The health secretary also said he was expecting the government’s vaccines advisers to offer recommendations “imminently” on changes to the booster program. “I want to make an even broader offer of vaccines, especially of boosters,” he said.
At a Downing Street news conference on Saturday, the prime minister called the new measures temporary and precautionary – and said they would be reviewed in three weeks, just before most schools break up for the Christmas holidays.
Labour has called for full implementation of Plan B and for improved sick pay to encourage self-isolation.
Boris Johnson announced the restrictions after it was confirmed that two Omicron cases had been detected in Brentwood, Essex, and Nottingham. Officials said the cases were linked and connected to travel in southern Africa, where the new variant was first identified.
Mr Johnson said: “We need to slow down the spread of this variant here in the UK because measures at the border can only ever minimize and delay the arrival of a new variant rather than stop it altogether.”
SOURCE: NEWS AGENCIES