Prime minister Boris Johnson has said that from next Monday, wearing a facemask will no longer be enforced by law in England, including on public transport or in shops, but that he “expects and recommends that people wear a face-covering in crowded and enclosed spaces where you come into contact with those you don’t normally meet”.
Following the announcement, Waterstones shared an update saying given its “enclosed browsing environment”, customers should still wear face masks and observe social distancing after restrictions are lifted.
In a tweet, it said: “Following the lift of restrictions on 19 July across England, we will observe new government guidance.
“Given our enclosed browsing environment, we encourage our customers to wear face masks and observe social distancing, respecting the safety of staff and fellow book lovers,” the statement read.
Although the message was met with support from many, it also sparked a backlash from anti-mask wearers – those who don’t agree with mask wearing – with many saying that they will no longer shop at Waterstones.
“If I am asked by a member of your staff to wear a face muzzle I will walk out of your store and never buy from you again,” one person replied to the tweet.
Another rebuked the policy as “relentlessly woke”. “I’ve put up with your relentlessly woke/ lefty ‘staff picks’ for years as wanted to support you in the face of Amazon. But nope, with this you’ve lost me now,” the tweet said.
A third person said they have already been defying the laws on face coverings in public spaces and will ignore the guidance set out by Waterstones.
“Why are people mad? I’ve been shopping mask free all the time. I’ll make [a] point to go into a Waterstones to shop mask free as always and like the past year, they can do absolutely nothing about it...” the person wrote.
Waterstone’s announcement also earned praise from vulnerable people who had been worried about entering public spaces after 19 July.
“Waterstones, I have blood cancer so even with both vaccines I am still extremely vulnerable and nervous about the lifting of restrictions. Thank you for helping immunocompromised people feel a little safer in what is still a terrifying time for us,” one person said.
Following the prime minister’s announcement, experts have weighed in on the consequences of lifting the mask mandate.
Peter English, of the British Medical Association’s public health medicine committee, said he believes masks should be “rigorously” enforced in enclosed public spaces where people have little choice in whether they enter them.
“For people who are reasonably concerned about their safety (people who are immune-suppressed, unable to be vaccinated), ‘freedom day’ will be bitterly ironic.
“They will be less safe in public spaces, and be unable, for example, safely to go to work if they have no control over whether other, potentially infectious individuals will wear a mask. Rather than being freed, they will become more confined,” he said.
Another expert, professor James Naismith, the director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute, said he will be wearing his mask at work, on the train and indoor spaces to protect others.
“As a doubly vaccinated man in my 50’s, the mask offers me no benefit. I see this as a tiny inconvenience that benefits wider society,” he said.
The Independent has contacted Waterstones for comment.
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