Wearing a face mask in public spaces like shops, supermarkets and restaurants in England is voluntary as of Monday. During a Downing Street press conference on 12 July, prime minister Boris Johnson confirmed that all social restrictions across the country will be lifted on 19 July, however, he urged the public to continue to wear masks in “crowded and enclosed spaces”.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show earlier this month, the housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, said that the public would have to exercise “personal responsibility” after the final legal restrictions are lifted. While Mr Jenrick recognised that people would “come to different conclusions” over mask wearing, he added that he trusted people “to exercise good judgement”.
The health minister Helen Whately has already said that she “can’t wait to not have to wear a mask”, previously telling Sky News: “I know, like many others, I can't wait to not have to wear a mask, but I will be cautious and try to make the right judgements and follow guidance on this.”
However, the British Medical Association (BMA) has urged the government to retain face masks on public transport and in shops. The BMA’s council chair, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, stated that the organisation was not calling for the reopening to be postponed, rather that “targeted measures”, such as wearing face masks in crowded areas, should be retained.
Elsewhere, the medical director of NHS England, Professor Stephen Powis, added that he “might choose” to continue to wear a face covering “in a crowded, indoor environment”, while mayors of some of England’s Covid hotspots, including Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle, have called for mandatory mask-wearing to continue as well.
In London, mayor Sadiq Khan has announced that wearing a face mask will remain mandatory on all Transport for London tubes, buses and trains.
The decision on whether to wear a face mask continues to divide people, particularly as Covid-19 cases rise throughout England, assisted by the arrival of the Delta variant. In the last seven days, 316,691 people have tested positive for Covid in the UK. That is an increase of 43 per cent on the previous week.
The Independent spoke to those who will continue to wear their face masks despite the restrictions being lifted.
Dan, 39, Folkestone
“Of all the ways the pandemic has impacted our day-to-day lives, wearing a small piece of fabric across my face when I go in a shop is pretty low down on the priority list”
I’m planning to wear a face mask beyond 19 July because despite the understandable optimism around the vaccine programme, I still do not have confidence in the government position that this situation is completely under control. Wearing a mask seems like the best precaution to stay as safe as possible, and to keep others safe.
Of all the ways the pandemic has impacted our day-to-day lives, wearing a small piece of fabric across my face when I go in a shop is pretty low down on the priority list. It’s not a big deal for me. I enjoy pretty good health – I’m not doing it to protect myself – it’s about signalling to other people that this is something that hasn’t gone away yet and that there is still a responsibility to keep people safe.
I do expect that there will be a degree of pushback from members of the public who have had enough or who just aren’t down with the whole social distancing thing in the first place, who might have things to say about my decision. But if I let that affect my judgement, I’ll be letting down the people who actually might benefit from me [wearing a mask].
I think my duty is to people who might not have been able to work from home during the pandemic. I’ve been working from home since March last year and I’m very aware that this is a privilege that not everyone is able to enjoy. Not taking reasonable precautions to keep everyone safe is abdicating responsibility and enormously selfish.
Lauren, 30, Hertfordshire
“For me, it’s a moral duty to protect more vulnerable people. We should care enough about each other to keep people safe”
I think wearing face masks should continue to be mandatory for lots of reasons, not least that it protects other people. It’s such a small thing we can do to keep ourselves safe. I’m so used to wearing my mask now that it’s like second nature – and I’ll continue to wear it.
The cost [to me] is very small, but the reward is that, to my knowledge, I have not contracted Covid. I’ve also not spread Covid and that is something I can live with. If I hadn’t worn my mask, I could have contracted Covid or I could have given it to someone else and they could have died. For me, it’s a moral duty to protect more vulnerable people. We should care enough about each other to keep people safe.
Also, I’ve only been sick once in two years. Before Covid, I worked in an office and used to get every cough and cold going. I am keeping the mask! Being poorly is so s**t! Wearing a mask makes me feel more comfortable. It keeps me healthy and it stops me making other people sick. I feel like I can live my life a bit more when I’m wearing a mask.
Grace, 31, Leeds
“I will never stop wearing a mask on an airplane now. Everybody seems to get a cold or gets sniffles”
The decision to lift the rules on mask wearing is ridiculous, in my opinion – you can’t just stop catching Covid-19 at midnight on 18 July. The risks don’t just end the day before. It makes me feel very angry with the government and Boris Johnson and the fact that he seems to be disregarding advice from people who know better [Professor Calum Semple of the government’s Sage group said he “probably” would continue wearing a mask].
It makes me worry that the government might be making decisions based on how they can get more people out shopping and spending money. Are they putting the economy first rather than people’s health? This is something I think we’ve seen with the football starting up again, yet maternity assessment centres in hospitals still won’t always let you have a visitor with you, even if you are in extreme pain or you’ve miscarried.
I plan to wear a face mask until January, then reassess the situation based on how many cases we have, its severity and whether we have another variant. And I will never stop wearing a mask on an airplane now. I just think, why not? Everybody seems to get a cold when they go on holiday, or get sniffles, and it’s just a really good way of minimising that risk.
I don’t see why people make such a fuss about [wearing masks]. I’m pregnant and get breathless and I struggle to wear a mask – sometimes I’m struggling – but you just push through. It’s not that big a deal.
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