Have your say: Will you continue to wear a face mask in crowded spaces after 19 July?

·4 min read

The government will abolish the legal requirement to wear face masks in England.

On Monday, prime minister Boris Johnson said people could ditch their face coverings from 19 July.

However, he did not rule out the return of COVID-19 restrictions while setting out his “freedom day” plans.

Mask wearing will no longer be a legal requirement under the plans, nor will social distancing in most cases, while nightclubs will be able to reopen and people will no longer be instructed to work from home.

A final decision will be taken next Monday on whether to proceed with the ending of restrictions, as part of the fourth phase of the government’s easing of the coronavirus lockdown.

Face masks have been mandatory for most people in crowded places such as shops and on public transport, but Johnson instead urged people to “exercise their personal responsibility”.

But the mayors of London, Manchester and Liverpool all called for further mask-wearing on public transport despite the government’s ending of restrictions.

Read more: 4 questions about COVID rules Boris Johnson has yet to answer

Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, said he would continue to wear a face mask in three situations: if in any indoor situation where it is crowded; if asked to do so by a “competent authority”; and if someone else is feeling uncomfortable.

The government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, said: “I’m exactly the same in terms of mask-wearing.”

Johnson said he would wear a mask in crowded places and as a matter of courtesy, but stressed that in situations such as sitting alone in a train carriage, “people should be entitled to exercise some discretion”.

People wearing face masks talk on a street in London, Britain, on June 17, 2021. Britain has reported another 11,007 coronavirus cases in the latest 24-hour period, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 4,600,623, according to official figures released Thursday. (Photo by Ray Tang/Xinhua via Getty Images)
People in England will no longer be legally required to wear face masks from 19 July. (Getty Images)

The prime minister said there will be guidance to suggest people “might choose” to wear face coverings when cases are rising, or when coming into contact with strangers in enclosed places.

The Labour Party called the prime minister’s plan to end restrictions “reckless” after Johnson said the number of daily coronavirus cases in the UK could reach 50,000 by 19 July.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “To throw off all protections at the same time when the infection rate is still going up is reckless.”

British Medical Association council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said face masks should be compulsory “until the rampant spread of infection has been brought under control and more of the population are fully vaccinated”.

In the latest government figures published on Monday, there were 27,334 cases of coronavirus reported in 24 hours, while nine people died within 28 days of testing positive.

Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said: “I do think that some people will probably feel less anxious by wearing them and that is okay.

“What I would say is that if you are in a vulnerable group and are going into a crowded indoor environment then it is sensible to still wear one, at least whilst infection rates are high.”

But Dr Laurence Aitchison, from the department of computer science at the University of Bristol, said: “Our research has shown mask-wearing reduces the spread of COVID-19 by around 25% if everyone wears them.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (Covid-19). Picture date: Monday July 5, 2021.
Prime minister Boris Johnson announced an end to England's coronavirus restrictions on Monday. (PA)

The main purpose of face masks is to protect others from coronavirus, but there is some evidence they also protect the wearer.

On Tuesday, health secretary Sajid Javid said he would continue to wear a face covering in a crowded space or if he was with someone who felt uncomfortable about one not being worn, once restrictions are eased.

He told Sky News: “For the foreseeable future I will be carrying a face mask with me, I think that’s a very responsible thing for anyone to do. The pandemic is not over.

“If I’m in a crowded or enclosed space, I will wear a face mask. In fact I will wear one if I was next to someone or near someone that felt uncomfortable with others not wearing face masks.

“And that’s what I mean by personality responsibility.”

Read more: Why you might have to still wear face masks on public transport

Watch: Boris Johnson and advisers discuss when they will wear face masks

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