People 'expected to wear masks' indoors in England after 19 July - minister

11 July 2021, 10:37

People in England will be "expected to wear masks in indoor enclosed spaces", Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi has said.
People in England will be "expected to wear masks in indoor enclosed spaces", Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi has said. Picture: PA

By Joe Cook

People in England will be "expected to wear masks in indoor enclosed spaces" even as the legal requirement to do so is lifted on 19 July, Nadhim Zahawi has revealed.

Speaking ahead of Monday's final decision on whether the 19 July lockdown easing will go ahead, the vaccines minister said: "It's important that we remain cautious and careful and the guidelines that we will set out tomorrow will demonstrate that".

This will include "guidelines that people are expected to wear masks in indoor enclosed spaces and of course to remain vigilant with hands and face," he told Sky News.

"Just remember if we all act responsibly, as we did with the vaccination program... we can come together and deal with this pandemic in a way that is responsible through thinking about our own actions and how they impact other people, including of course people who may be immunocompromised."

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The comments indicate an apparent U-turn inside the government, after Boris Johnson announced last Monday that it would be personal choice to wear a face covering.

Addressing the nation from Downing Street, the PM said the government planned to lift "the legal obligation to wear a face covering, although guidance will suggest where you might choose to do so, especially when cases are rising and where you come into contact with people you don't normally meet in enclosed spaces, such as of course, crowded public transport."

"I think that what what we are trying to do is move from universal government diktat to relying on people's personal responsibility," he added.

The plans were heavily criticised by the Opposition and groups representing those most vulnerable to Covid, some of whom cannot take the vaccine.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the plans to drop the requirement to wear masks was "reckless", while Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said he was in discussions on whether they would remain compulsory on public transport in the capital.

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However, Mr Johnson's announcement was welcomed by Tory backbench MPs, some of whom said they had no plans to wear a mask on public transport.

Speaking to LBC's Iain Dale, Tory MP Miriam Cates said: "I completely agree with the Prime Minister, this has to be about personal attitude to risk. If people want to continue wearing face masks, and I think they will, on public transport, then that is their decision."

Asked whether she would be wearing a mask on public transport Ms Cates responded: "No I won't be... I think freedom is very important, showing our faces is part of being human."

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The guidance set by Mr Johnson's government on face masks only applies to England. Wales announced on Sunday that face coverings will remain mandatory on public transport even as restrictions are eased.