Ministers announced new control measures to help keep the new covid variant in check after cases were confirmed in the UK, including wearing face coverings on public transport and in shops.
The Omicron variant, as it has been named by the World Health Organisation, was first identified in South Africa, and has since been found in several countries, including the United Kingdom.
Public health directors for the LA7 group of councils, which includes Sunderland, South Tyneside, North Tyneside, Northumberland, Gateshead, Newcastle and Durham, have issued a statement on the eve of the new measures.
It reads: “At present, little is known about the variant but while we learn more about its structure and behaviour, it’s essential we all take decisive action to minimise its potential impact.
“The control measures that we have become accustomed to throughout the pandemic are effective at minimising transmission of all strains of the virus.
“From Tuesday, face coverings will be compulsory in shops and on public transport, but we should take extra care to protect ourselves and others. That means keeping a safe distance from others, washing hands regularly, keeping indoor spaces ventilated, getting tested and self-isolating where required."
A change to the guidance issued to schools and a requirement for international arrivals to self-isolate upon entry to the UK are also part of new measures.
People arriving in the UK will have to take a PCR test within 48 hours of their arrival, and remain in isolation until they return a negative test.
All contacts of suspected Omicron cases must self-isolate, regardless of their vaccination status. They will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace.
The LA7 statement read: “We know these measures are effective, and if we all do our bit, they will be effective against Omicron as well.
“The three Covid-19 vaccines approved for use in the UK – Moderna, Astra Zeneca, and Pfizer – offer very good protection from all known variants of the virus.
"At this stage, there is no reason to believe they won’t reduce transmission and serious illness from the Omicron variant as well. While we don’t yet know this for certain, we would urge everybody to ensure they have a first, second, and booster dose of the vaccine when eligible.
“With the JCVI advising young people should be eligible for a second dose, and boosters be offered to everyone over the age of 18 just three months after their second dose, we need to see as many people as possible coming forwards to make sure our levels of protection against all strains are as high as they possibly can be.
“Omicron has been identified early and while it is a variant of concern, global cases remain low. Until we know more about this variant, we should all double down on our efforts to keep ourselves and others safe, as communities across our region have done to great effect throughout the pandemic.”