Face masks are set to become a “personal choice” in England with the further easing of coronavirus restrictions, a senior UK government minister said Sunday.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told Sky News: “I don’t particularly want to wear a mask, I don’t think a lot of people enjoy doing it.
“We will be moving into a phase though, where these will be matters of personal choice and so some members of society will want to do so for perfectly legitimate reasons, but it will be a different period where we as private citizens make these judgments rather than the government telling you what to do,” Jenrick added.
The UK government is currently considering whether to lift all remaining restrictions on social contact on July 19. The government’s new Health Secretary Sajid Javid has signaled he would like to ease coronavirus restrictions.
“We are on track for July 19 and we have to be honest with people about the fact that we cannot eliminate Covid,” Javid wrote in an article for the Mail on Sunday newspaper this weekend.
“We also need to be clear that cases are going to rise significantly. I know many people will be cautious about the easing of restrictions – that’s completely understandable. But no date we choose will ever come without risk, so we have to take a broad and balanced view. We are going to have to learn to accept the existence of Covid and find ways to cope with it – just as we already do with flu.”
Javid said the “rules that we have had to put in place have caused a shocking rise in domestic violence and a terrible impact on so many people’s mental health.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is reviewing “very positive” data ahead of his decision on the next step in England’s coronavirus roadmap, Jenrick told Sky News.
“It does seem as if we can now move forward and move to a much more permissive regime where we move away from many of those restrictions that have been so difficult for us,” he added.
Despite being criticized for being slow to lock down and require mask wearing at the start of the pandemic, the UK has since been heralded for its Covid-19 vaccine rollout.
However, doctors’ union the British Medical Association (BMA) has urged the government to keep some Covid-safe measures in place after July 19 in England amid a rise in case numbers.
“Weekly cases in England are up 74% on the previous seven days, while the number of people admitted to hospitals in England with Covid-19 has risen by 55% over the last week,” the BMA said in a press release on Saturday.
One of the Covid-safe measures the union called for is the ongoing requirement to wear a mask in enclosed public spaces, such as public transport and shops.
“We have made excellent progress with both the vaccination campaign and individual action from people across the country over the last 18 months, and the Government must absolutely not throw this away at this critical juncture,” Dr. Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said.
“While the vaccination programme continues at pace, a significant proportion of people remain either unvaccinated or partially vaccinated. This is on top of those who cannot receive the jab or the small number for whom immunisation will be ineffective.
“Neither will all those vaccinated by 19th July be properly protected given it takes about two weeks after the second dose to confer maximum immunity. This means we are still some way from protecting enough of the population from this devastating illness to control the spread,” Nagpaul added.
Asked about the BMA’s call to keep a mandate on masks, National Medical Director for NHS England Stephen Powis told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show on Sunday he didn’t want to “speculate” ahead of any government announcement.
“I think some people will choose to be more cautious, some people may choose to wear face masks in particular circumstances in crowded environments, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing… those habits to reduce infections are a good thing to keep,” he added.