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To play this video you need to enable JavaScript in your browser.Media caption, Watch Boris Johnson set out new measures after two cases of the Omicron variant were found in the UK

Face coverings will become mandatory again in shops and on public transport in England from next week under a raft of measures to target the new Covid variant, Omicron, the PM has said.

PCR tests for everyone entering the UK will be introduced and all contacts of new variant cases will have to self-isolate, even if fully jabbed.

Boris Johnson said Christmas would be "considerably better" than last year.

The measures were "temporary and precautionary", he added.

Mr Johnson announced the restrictions at a Downing Street news conference 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.

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The new variant was first reported from South Africa on Wednesday, with early evidence suggesting it has a higher re-infection risk.

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 minimise and delay the arrival of a new variant rather than stop it all together."

He said the new measures would be reviewed in three weeks, by which time they should have better information about the "continuing effectiveness" of vaccines.

Asked by the BBC's Iain Watson if the prime minister could say with any confidence that people could keep their Christmas plans, he replied: "We continue to be in a strong position largely thanks to the speed of the vaccine rollout, another booster rollout, and… I'm pretty confident to absolutely confident this Christmas will be considerably better than last Christmas."

Countries around the world are racing to introduce travel bans and restrictions on southern African countries in an effort to contain the variant's spread.

Under the plans:

  • Everyone arriving in the UK will have to take PCR test by day two and self-isolate until they receive a negative result
  • All contacts of suspected Omicron cases must self-isolate, regardless of whether or not they are fully jabbed
  • Face coverings will be made compulsory in shops and on public transport – but hospitality settings will be exempt from the changes
  • The health secretary is to ask advisers to consider rapidly extending boosters, including reducing the gap between the second dose of the vaccine and the booster

Cases of the new variant appearing in the UK were inevitable. What was not inevitable was the government's response, moving swiftly to tighten rules for those arriving in the country and for the wearing of face coverings in shops and on public transport in England.

In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland face coverings are already mandatory on public transport and in some indoor settings.

So why not the full Plan B for England with requirements to work from home and the use of vaccine passports in some settings?

The prime minister's answer was that more work was needed to determine how rapidly the variant spreads and how effective the vaccines might be – hence the focus on trying to stop cases coming into the UK but holding off on a wider range of domestic restrictions.

In effect the government is trying to buy time with a review in three weeks, relying on the booster programme to increase immunity while data on Omicron is analysed. They will hope that the worst fears about the spread of the variants are not realised. There is always the risk though that the latest set of measures don't go far enough.