Masks are now required on public transport and in shops as a result of the emergence of the variant believed to be the “worst ever” one yet – as it is said to be more contagious than previous strains.
Face coverings will not be required to be worn in the hospitality sector, an in venues such as concerts, cinemas and theatres.
In places where face masks are compulsory, those who do not comply without good reason will face a £200 fine which could be doubled for each subsequent infraction, according to a report by The Telegraph.
People who flout the rules many times could face a maximum charge of £6,400 due to the doubling of the fine each time, the newspaper adds.
Those who pay their first fine within 14 days will see the charge halved to £100 – just as the rules stipulated during the third coronavirus lockdown, when masks were last required en masse.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson had announced on Saturday that face coverings would again become compulsory in shops and on public transport after it was revealed that the omicron variant has 32 mutations on its spike protein.
It is feared that this large number of mutations would allow it to evade natural and vaccine immunity – enabling it to be much more contagious than the delta variant.
The change to the law will come into effect tomorrow.
Also from this week, secondary school pupils will be required to wear face masks in communal areas at school.
Health secretary Sajid Javid said the measures – which will be reviewed in three weeks’ time – were “proportionate” to the threat posed by the omicron variant.
He told Sky News: “Doing it in this proportionate way where it’s for public transport, it’s for retail outlets, I think is the right level of response on masks. It will be via government regulation and that means, I think, that people will take it seriously.”
Transport workers’ union RMT said that are worried about being left to handle irate passengers who refuse to wear masks.
Mick Lynch, RMT general secretary, said: “We support the wearing of masks but there are major issues about enforcement.
“It is our members left in the front line with angry passengers who refuse to comply.”
Shop workers’ union Usdaw has said that retail staff are at risk of “abuse” from angry customers who refuse to wear masks.
Paddy Lillis, the general secretary, said the government should have kept the mask-wearing rule in place rather than axe the requirement in July before reinstating it four months later.
He said: “This flip-flopping on basic and sensible Covid measures and the different rules across the UK create confusion, reduce compliance and can lead to conflict.”
Mr Lillis added: “The government must be clear and consistent on it being mandatory and that shopworkers are not expected to enforce the law on face coverings.”
There have now been 11 confirmed cases of omicron in the UK, after six new cases were identified in Scotland on Monday, and two new cases in London.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “In light of the new omicron variant the government has taken swift and decisive action to mandate face coverings in some settings including shops and on public transport.
“Face coverings can provide protection to those around you and can help prevent the spread of the virus.”
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