Sunday, December 5

No legal compulsion to wear face masks once England’s coronavirus restrictions are lifted


George Eustice said the government wants all of the legal requirements to do things to be taken away completely at step four of its roadmap for lifting COVID-19 measures, which is currently scheduled for 19 July.

There will be no legal compulsion to wear face masks once England’s coronavirus restrictions are lifted, the environment secretary has told Sky News, as he said he will ditch his face covering when the rule is scrapped.

Whether there will still be some people who might choose to wear masks or whether it may be advisory in some settings, that’s a separate matter,” he said.
But the objective of that final stage is to remove the legal requirement to do these things.

Asked if he would continue to wear a face covering beyond that point, the minister replied: I wouldn’t, no. I have to be honest, once I’m told it’s safe not to, I want to get back to normal. I think a lot of people will want to shed those masks.

But while it’s contributing to controlling the pandemic, yes I will wear my mask like everybody else and do my bit. The wearing of face coverings in a range of settings, including in shops and on public transport, has been required since last summer. And some experts have warned that certain measures like the use of face masks, may still be necessary in order to help manage levels of the virus in the community.

Speaking to MPs last week, Public Health England’s Dr Susan Hopkins said there will be more emphasis on personal risk and responsibility once COVID restrictions are lifted. I think we will all need to make decisions for ourselves, particularly on wearing masks, using better ventilation, hand hygiene, she told MPs on the Commons Science and Technology Committee.

So we may find that some people, not all, will change their behaviours, and particularly those that are more concerned about their health or the health of people they live with, it will be for governments to decide what rules and regulations will need to be in place and what legislation will need to continue after 19 July.

Mr Eustice’s comments come after an expert told Sky News that social distancing and mask-wearing would still be needed in the future in areas of high infection. Dr David Nabarro, a special envoy on COVID-19 for the World Health Organisation, said there was a need to “maintain defences against the virus to stop it welling up more and more, and that’s going to be the life to come, at least until there’s enough vaccine, and enough certainty, to be sure that vaccination will protect us.

He added that because of new variants as well as using vaccine as part of our defence, we’re going to have to continue by keeping a bit of a distance from each other and then I’m going to suggest that the physical distancing part of one metre plus and mask wearing will be necessary, particularly in places where there’s a lot of virus.