A woman wears a face mask as she crosses the London Bridge, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in London, Britain July 6, 2021. [Photo/Agencies] Govt urging people to use judgment after the lockdown ends on July 19
Britain’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, confirmed on Monday that the last part of lifting lockdown restrictions in England would go ahead as planned on July 19, which means an end to social distancing and the compulsory wearing of masks－but despite the end of the legal requirement to wear a mask, government guidance remains that people should still wear them.
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When asked by BBC reporter Vicki Young if he would wear one himself, Johnson replied “it will depend on the circumstances”, and when vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi was interviewed on Sky News, he said people would still be “expected to wear masks in indoor, enclosed places” after the legal requirement to do so ended.
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“There will still be guidance in place and we would urge caution and the innate common sense of the British people around things like mask wearing,” he said.
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Before the official announcement, Johnson said the country was “tantalizingly close to the final milestone in our road map out of lockdown, but the plan to restore our freedoms must come with a warning”, and acknowledged that cases of novel coronavirus would increase as unlocking happened, with caution being “absolutely vital”.
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Health minister Edward Argar backed up Johnson‘s approach, saying now was as good a time as any to make changes. “If not now, when?” he said. “We’re in a position now where the vaccination program－our defensive wall against this virus－is proving hugely effective.” He was also quoted by ITV News as saying he would keep a mask “in my pocket in future days and in future weeks”
The measures were supposed to have been lifted on June 21 but were put back because of the virulence of the spreading of the Delta variant. This delay has allowed for many more people to be vaccinated, and figures released on Friday revealed that 45.7 million (86.9 percent) adults across the United Kingdom have had their first jab, and 34.5 million (65.6 percent) have had both
However, the seemingly contradictory tone of the messages being sent out, and the language used in doing so, has drawn criticism from figures in the medical establishment and other politicians
“Wearing a mask isn’t a political choice: it’s just a kind, decent, fairly easy thing to do,” tweeted high-profile medical broadcaster and doctor Xand van Tulleken, who is a lecturer at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and who has suffered heart-related health issues since catching COVID-19 at the start of the pandemic
“Anyone wearing a mask isn’t protecting themselves as much as protecting those around them. It’s the opposite of personal responsibility: It’s care for others.”
Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the British Medical Association, told the BBC Radio 4 Today program that leaving mask-wearing to the judgement of the public “makes no sense”
“We know that face masks are proven to reduce the spread of this infection … And at a time when we have a high level of cases, we cannot understand why we would knowingly want people to become infected,” he said
Mike Tildesley, from the government advisory panel the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, admitted that the UK was taking an experimental approach compared to other countries, adding “but also I think when we compare with most other countries we do have much higher levels of vaccine rates than most other countries”
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas also attacked the decision, tweeting that “if freedom to drive at 100 mph is restricted because of risk to others, why not apply the same logic to mask-wearing on public transport”
The reopening date only applies to England; Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are subject to their own rules