COVID-19: Face masks will be a ‘personal choice’ under ‘much more permissive regime’ of measures
Written by Hitmix News on 5 July 2021
There will be a “much more permissive regime” of coronavirus measures in England once restrictions are eased – with the wearing of face masks a “personal choice”, a minister has told Sky News.
Speaking to Sky News amid reports that Boris Johnson is preparing to ease the last remaining COVID-19 restrictions in England from 19 July, Robert Jenrick said the success of the UK’s vaccination programme means the government is “able to think about how we can return to normality as much as possible”.
The housing secretary told the Trevor Phillips On Sunday programme that “we are not going to put the COVID-19 virus behind us forever, we’re going to have to learn to live with it”.
Mr Jenrick said the data at the moment “looks very positive”, ahead of a final decision from the prime minister on whether step four of England’s roadmap out of COVID restrictions will take place in just over two weeks.
He continued: “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 and learn to live with the virus.”
According to reports in the Sunday newspapers, face masks and social distancing will no longer be required once step four comes into effect.
According to the Sunday Times, having to scan a QR code before entering a bar, restaurant or similar venue will also be a thing of the past after 19 July, meaning a smaller risk of people being told to isolate by Test and Trace.
And the paper also reported that mass events, including festivals, will be allowed.
In addition, Downing Street said on Saturday it is considering scrapping quarantine requirements for those who have received two vaccine doses.
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Doctors call for some COVID measures to stay
Asked about face masks, Mr Jenrick said: “Like many people, I want to get away from these restrictions as quickly as I possibly can.
“We don’t want them to stay in place for a day longer than is necessary.
“We are going to now move into a period where there won’t be legal restrictions – the state won’t be telling you what to do – but you will want to exercise a degree of personal responsibility and judgement.
“So different people will come to different conclusions on things like masks, for example.”
He stressed it would be a matter of “personal choice” and some people “will want to do so, for perfectly legitimate reasons”, but that he would not be wearing one once it is no longer mandatory.
Meanwhile, Health Secretary Sajid Javid has said the country needs to find ways to live with COVID as it cannot be “eliminated” entirely.
“We are going to have to learn to accept COVID and find ways to cope with it, just as we do with flu,” he wrote in an article for the Mail on Sunday.
But concerns have been expressed about the government’s rhetoric, with the health secretary’s latest comments drawing criticism.
“It is frightening to have a ‘health’ secretary who still thinks COVID is flu,” said Stephen Reicher, professor of Social Psychology at the University of St Andrews and a member of the Independent Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (SPI-B).
“Who is unconcerned at levels of infection. Who doesn’t realise that those who do best for health also do best for the economy. Who wants to ditch all protections while only half of us are vaccinated.”
Professor Devi Sridhar, chairwoman of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, said: “We didn’t have to vaccinate the entire adult population against flu, or do mass community testing, or have lockdowns bc hospitals full. I don’t understand this analogy.”
The comments come after the British Medical Association said some prevention measures – such as face masks and improved public messaging – should remain after step four to stop the current “alarming” rise in cases.
The BMA council’s chair, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, said easing restrictions should not be an “all or nothing” decision, and that “sensible, cautious” measures will be vital to minimising the impact of further waves, new variants and lockdowns.
New UK health minister saying COVID is like flu. Same position 18 months into the pandemic. We didn’t have to vaccinate the entire adult population against flu, or do mass community testing, or have lockdowns bc hospitals full. I don’t understand this analogy. https://t.co/2w15dwpuYE
— Prof. Devi Sridhar (@devisridhar) July 4, 2021
Professor Adam Finn, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), told Sky News he will keep wearing his face mask as it is something that is “extremely valuable to do under certain circumstances”.
“On a personal level I shall certainly be continuing to wear a mask if I’ve got any symptoms or if I’m in an enclosed space with lots of other people for a prolonged period of time, indefinitely in fact,” he said.
Professor Finn added that widespread mask-wearing during the pandemic has had some positive effects apart from helping tackle the spread of COVID.
“I think we learned, as paediatricians, we learned that we can avoid massive problems with children getting sick in the winter by doing these kind of measures,” he said.
“We simply didn’t see the epidemics of respiratory viruses last winter that we’ve seen every year throughout my career.”
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‘We see no reason to go beyond 19 July’
His comments on masks were echoed by Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director for NHS England.
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that some people may choose to wear face masks in particular circumstances, such as crowded environments, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing”.
Professor Finn said he is most worried about the global situation with coronavirus, because that is what is most likely to cause problems here.
“We’ve had this experience in the last two months of importation of a much more infectious virus from India,” he said, adding this will happen again if the pandemic goes forward “unchecked around the world”.
“I think that’s the most likely scenario to cause a fourth or fifth wave in this country that would be out of control.”