Additional quarantine hotel rooms will be made available for returnees from Red List countries after reports of shortages prevented some people from returning to the UK.
UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid said he expected the number of hotel rooms available for international quarantine to double this week.
“I know that the demand for these facilities has increased with the rapid expansion of the Red List and that some people have had problems returning home,” said Javid.
“However, we are building this capacity up as quickly as possible. We have already brought several new hotels on board in the last few days and assume that we will double the number of available rooms this week.
He explained why Nigeria was put on the UK’s red travel list from 4 a.m. on Monday.
“Analysis by UKHSA [Health Security Agency] shows that in England alone at least 21 Omicron cases are linked to travel from Nigeria and there is strong evidence that Omicron is present there, “Javid said.
“Nigeria also has very strong travel ties with South Africa.
“As this new variant hits more and more countries every day, we also need to look beyond the Red List and step up our actions on a wider range of travelers to make sure they protect us from this potential threat.”
He said pre-departure testing “could play a bigger role in identifying positive cases before travel,” as new data shows that Omicron may have a shorter window of time between infection and infectivity.
“As of 4am tomorrow, anyone traveling to the UK from non-red-listed countries must also have a negative PCR or lateral flow test,” said Javid.
“This applies to all vaccinated travelers, regardless of whether they are vaccinated or unvaccinated, and to all people aged 12 and over.
“I know these actions naturally cause disruption and affect people’s plans to hang out with loved ones, especially during this festive season.
“But we are taking these early steps now so we don’t have to be tougher later and can seize every opportunity to prevent more cases from falling into our country.”
Mr Javid said the measures are “temporary” and will be reviewed with others and the House of Commons will be updated “next week”.
He said there was now a “community broadcast in several regions of England” of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
“The Omicron variant continues to spread here and around the world,” said Javid.
“According to the latest data, there are now 261 confirmed cases in England, 71 in Scotland and four in Wales, bringing the total number of confirmed cases across the UK to 336.
“This includes cases unrelated to international travel. So we can conclude that there is now a community broadcast in several regions of England. “
He said the government couldn’t be sure whether Omicron would bypass Covid vaccines or how severely it would cause disease.
“We are constantly learning more about this new variant,” Javid told MPs.
“The latest analyzes by the British Health Security Agency suggest that the window between infection and infectivity could be shorter with the Omicron variant than with the Delta variant.
“But we don’t yet have a complete picture of whether Omicron is causing more serious illness or actually interacting with the vaccines.
“At this point in time, we cannot say for sure whether Omicron has the potential to divert us from our path of recovery.
“We do not leave anything to chance. Our strategy is to buy ourselves time and strengthen our defenses while our world-leading scientists evaluate this new variant and its importance in our fight against Covid-19. “
Mr Javid said about 350 military personnel are being deployed to England this week to “support the vaccine refreshment program,” adding that there are more than 100 workers in Scotland for a similar goal.
“If the virus adapts, we have to adapt too,” he said. “We can’t say for sure what Omicron will mean in terms of our response, but we can say that we will do everything in our power to strengthen our national defense.”
Updated: December 6, 2021 at 11:03 p.m.