New 'Pingdemic' could cost economy £2 billion, says economist

From Tuesday, the wearing of face masks is set to be compulsory in shops and on public transport, while PCR tests will be brought back in for travellers returning to the UK.

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UK scientists are set to announce an expansion of the Covid-19 booster vaccine programme as nine cases of the Omicron variant have been confirmed across the country.

Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said experts have been looking at extending boosters to the under-40s and whether the time interval between the second and third doses of the vaccine should be cut.

A decision is expected to be announced on Monday afternoon, at the same time as an urgent meeting is held of health ministers from the G7 group of nations to discuss the new Omicron variant.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), preliminary evidence suggests Omicron carries a higher risk of reinfection though it is not yet clear how transmissible it is or whether it can evade vaccine protection.

From Tuesday, the wearing of face masks is set to be compulsory in shops and on public transport, while PCR tests will be brought back in for travellers returning to the UK.

Commenting on the planned reintroduction of some Covid measures, Julian Jessop, Economics Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said:

"The new Covid restrictions announced for England are unlikely to derail the UK economy, but it is still worth asking whether they are proportionate."

"The pingdemic in July probably reduced UK GDP by about 0.5 per cent that month. The impact of a repeat could now be greater, because the rules are being tightened in school term time and when labour shortages are a bigger problem. This suggests the new self-isolation rules could knock as much as 1 per cent off GDP in December, costing the economy at least £2 billion."

"The new rules on international travel could also have a significant impact. So far, only a handful of countries in Africa have been added to the ‘red list’ with the most stringent restrictions, including 11 expensive nights of hotel quarantine."

Nicola Sturgeon has proposed tighter travel restrictions after six cases of the Covid-19 Omicron variant were identified in Scotland.

Scotland’s First Minister spoke at a briefing on the variant after the Scottish Government announced four cases are in Lanarkshire and two in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde area.