No Need for U.K. Work-From-Home Mandate, Health Minister Says
Javid Says Omicron Steps Buy ‘Precious Weeks’ for Scientists
(Bloomberg) -- There’s no need to impose a new work-from-home rule or other draconian steps now that the new coronavirus variant has spread to the U.K., Health Secretary Sajid Javid said.
Moves taken Saturday by the government will buy scientists “precious weeks” to evaluate the omicron strain first identified in southern Africa and work on new vaccine formulations if needed, Javid said. In interviews with Sky News and the BBC, he cited the “heavy cost” of lockdowns on the economy and mental health.
“No, I don’t think that’s necessary, because this is about taking proportionate action against the risks that we face,” Javid said on the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show.”
Two cases of the omicron variant have been confirmed in the U.K., in travelers who returned from southern Africa. It’s unclear if current Covid-19 shots will work as well against the variant, and a rush to produce new or reformulated vaccines is on.
Javid said he was confident people will take more seriously mask-wearing rules for shops and public transport due to start on Tuesday. Masks are already required on London transport but the rules are widely ignored.
“The British public can see why the government has imposed this,” Javid told the BBC.
Under its latest guidelines, the U.K. will require anyone entering the country to take a PCR test within two days of arrival and self isolate until they receive confirmation of a negative result.
Ten southern African countries are now on the U.K.’s “red list.” People returning from those countries face a mandatory 10-day quarantine at a managed hotel at their own expense.
The measures don’t go as far as the government’s Plan B, which includes encouraging people to work from home and is designed to stop the National Health Service from becoming overrun.
In fact, although Covid-19 cases in the U.K. have been high for months, Covid-related hospitalizations have fallen in November and deaths are a fraction of the peak seen last winter, before vaccines became widely available.
Much of Europe isn’t as well placed. The emergence of the omicron variant threatens to hammer Europe as governments grapple with a fourth wave of coronavirus cases driven by the infectious delta strain.
Suspected cases have been identified in Germany, Italy, Belgium and Austria, as well as Israel, Australia and Hong Kong. A large proportion of the passengers on two flights to Amsterdam from South Africa on Friday tested positive for Covid.
Global markets were upended on Friday as the news of the latest mutation spurred investors to seek havens rather than bet on assets tied to economic growth. Middle East markets slumped when they opened for the week on Sunday.
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