Face masks will still be “expected” to be worn in enclosed indoor spaces after lockdown restrictions are lifted in England on 19 July, the vaccines minister has said.
Nadhim Zahawi has said the guidelines on mask wearing “will be very clear” after the government faced criticism for its plans to remove mandatory face coverings in the final stage of the lockdown exit plan.
The Prime Minister is expected to confirm plans for the so-called Freedom Day in a Downing Street press conference on Monday (12 July), which will set out guidance for face masks, among other measures, from 19 July onwards.
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Wearing masks to continue indoors
Mr Zahawi said that there will be an expectation for people to continue wearing face masks indoors, despite the fact the legal requirement to do so will be dropped.
It is anticipated that guidance will recommend face coverings to be worn in enclosed and crowded indoor spaces, such as public transport, with the government stating it is important to remain cautious.
Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show, Mr Zahawi said: “The guidelines will be very clear on things like mask-wearing, there’s an expectation on people to wear masks indoors, in crowded places, on public transport.
“There’s both a personal responsibility and a corporate responsibility.”
His comments come as Health Secretary Sajid Javid told The Sunday Telegraph that anyone who would not wear a mask in an enclosed space was “just being irresponsible”.
However, his remarks were criticised by Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth who countered that “it would be equally irresponsible for his government to carry on with the plan to lift mask requirements while infections are heading to 100,000 a day.”
In Wales face coverings are to remain compulsory on public transport, and shadow education secretary Kate Green said she understood Labour’s mayors would also mandate them where they had control over public transport, such as the trams in Manchester and the Tube in London.
Ms Green said Labour supported coronavirus restrictions lifting if the data supported it, but warned that some measures should continue beyond 19 July.
Speaking to Sky News, she said: “What we don’t want is to lift the restrictions without keeping mitigations in place that would enable that to happen more safely.
“So for example, that’s why we’ve said that the mandatory mask-wearing should continue in public places.
“That’s why we’ve said that there should be more support and requirement on public spaces to have proper ventilation systems.
“That’s why we said that the financial support for people on low incomes who have to isolate needs to be adequate so that they can afford to do that.
“So yes, we do want to see the restrictions lifted if the data confirmed that that’s the right thing to do, and I hope, and the indications seem to be that it will do. But we want that with the mitigations kept in place.”
People must ‘exercise common sense’
Health minister Edward Argar has said there will be no confusion around the government’s plan to remove the legal requirement to wear face masks, adding that people will be advised to “exercise their common sense”.
Mr Argar told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Train companies may well look at, as conditions of carriage, whether they want to impose additional guidance or additional restrictions.
“But at a governmental level, what we have set out, what we will be looking to do is see the legal requirements fall away but for guidance – strong guidance and cautious guidance – to be in place for people to exercise their common sense.
“I don’t think that the British people will struggle to look at the guidance and form their own common-sense judgment – I don’t think it will introduce confusion.
“I think people will look at it, they will form a sensible judgment based on the guidance.”
Downing Street said the lifting of measures will be based on four key tests. These include the success of the vaccine rollout, evidence the coronavirus vaccines is causing a reduction in hospital admissions and deaths, that infection rates do not risk a surge in admissions, and that no new Covid-19 variants of concern throw the progress made off track.
Mr Javid will announce the plans in Parliament on Monday (12 July), while Mr Johnson delivers the Downing Street press conference.