Shoppers and commuters in England asked to wear masks despite Plan B lifted | Coronavirus
Legal measures requiring masks and Covid passes in England have been dropped, but shoppers and commuters in some settings will still be asked to wear face coverings.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the success of the vaccination programme, coupled with a better understanding of how to treat the virus, “allows us to return carefully to Plan A, restoring more freedoms to this country”.
From Thursday, face coverings are no longer required by law in any setting, while a legal requirement for NHS Covid passes for entry to places such as nightclubs has been removed.
As attention shifts away from legal measures, the prime minister’s official spokesman, when asked about masks, said it would now be “a matter of personal judgement”.
Public health guidelines urging people to wear face coverings in crowded, enclosed spaces when in contact with strangers will remain in place, the government said.
He said organizations will be able to choose whether they will require Covid passes from those visiting their sites.
The latest reversal of restrictions follows the abandonment of working from home last week and guidance for face coverings in classrooms for staff and pupils which have been scrapped.
From Thursday, the Department of Education also scrapped national guidelines on the use of face coverings in common areas of educational institutions.
Mr Javid said: “Our vaccines, tests and antivirals ensure that we have some of the strongest defenses in Europe and allow us to return carefully to plan A, restoring more freedoms in this country.
“As we learn to live with Covid, we need to be clear that this virus is not going away, so if you haven’t already, please show up for your first, second or booster.”
While the removal of the measures was welcomed by some, others urged people to ‘be mindful of those around them’ when choosing to wear a face covering and to ‘be respectful’ policies in certain contexts.
Both Sainsbury’s and John Lewis said their customers would be asked to wear masks, although the latter acknowledged that it would ultimately come down to “personal choice”.
The British Retail Consortium said the changes “will allow shopping to return to a more normal experience for customers, employees and businesses”.
But their chief executive, Helen Dickinson, added: “Retailers are asking customers to be considerate of those around them when choosing whether or not to wear a face covering and to respect the decision of other customers.
It’s “essential” that retailers clearly communicate their mask policy to customers, said Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman.
He added: “Although it is no longer a legal requirement, many stores will still have a policy of requiring customers to wear a face covering when shopping, and this should be adhered to.
“Covid-related abuse, particularly around the wearing of face coverings, has been a significant issue for retailers and colleagues throughout the pandemic, so we ask all customers to respect the policies in place in their local stores.”
The Usdaw store workers’ union has welcomed the continuation of Covid safety measures in some stores, while its general secretary, Paddy Lillis, described as “deeply disappointing” the end of mandatory masks in stores “despite the concerns of employees of shop”.
Meanwhile, commuters on London’s public transport network will still have to wear face coverings, with the city’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, calling on people to ‘do the right thing’.
A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group echoed that sentiment and said rail companies would ask passengers to wear masks “as a courtesy to others”.
He said: “We expect most passengers to do the right thing and follow this advice.”
The removal of the requirement for Covid passes has been welcomed by those in the hospitality industry.
Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, described the requirement as having been a “debilitating and divisive mitigation” and said night economy businesses would celebrate the change.
Mr Kill said the impact of the measure has left ‘many businesses now worried they will struggle to survive beyond February’ and called for more government support.
Shaun Hinds, managing director of Manchester Central, which describes itself as one of the UK’s leading events venues, described the end of Plan B as “a very positive decision”.
He said “a number of strong inquiries for events in 2022” and new bookings for 2023 indicate a “genuine appetite and eagerness in the live events sector as it continues its recovery”.
The Department of Health said the changes came after a review of data last week, including infections, vaccine effectiveness, Covid pressures on the NHS, workforce absences, public behavior and the opinions of the scientific community.