The government is “nowhere near” bringing in fresh Covid restrictions like mandatory vaccine passports and working from home orders, according to Sajid Javid.
The health secretary said the emergence of the new Omicron variant does not mean Plan B restrictions are imminent and that “people should continue with their plans as normal at Christmas”.
It comes after the government implemented a stricter testing regime for international arrivals and mandatory face masks last night, after two cases of the highly transmissible Omicron variant were detected in England.
The full Plan B set of measures includes mandatory face masks and vaccine passports, along with working from home orders.
When asked by Sky News if Plan B Covid curbs were imminent, Javid said: “Those type of measures carry a very heavy price – economically, socially, in terms of non-Covid outcomes like effect on mental health for example.
“If one was to make a decision like that it would have to be done very carefully and we’re nowhere near that yet and the reason is because we’ve got to step back and take a proportionate and balanced response.
“What we do know at this point is that given the number of mutations in this variant there is reason to think it may, and I stress the word may, turn out to make our vaccines less effective. It may not, we just don’t know enough.”
Early research on the variant suggests that vaccines may not be as effective against the Omicron variant, which was first discovered in South Africa.
This has led to the UK to requiring hotel quarantine from anyone entering from South Africa or nine other neighbouring countries.
Cases have now been identified in Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Australia.
Professor Calum Semple, who is on the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), told the BBC: “It’s very early days, we’ve only known about this virus for a few weeks.
“The evidence is it’s not causing more death and that’s important. The problem this might present is it might evade some of the vaccines, but it might not evade the boosters or the two proper doses.”
BioNTech, the German pharma company who founded the Pfizer vaccine, said it could have a booster targeting the Omicron variant in 100 days.