No ‘Legal Compulsion’ to Keep Wearing Masks After Restrictions End, Says Minister

A police officer wears a face mask as he stands on the concourse at Waterloo Station in London on June 15, 2020 after new rules make wearing face coverings on public transport compulsory while the UK further eases its coronavirus lockdown. - New coronavirus pandemic rules coming into force on …
NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP via Getty Images

There is no “legal compulsion” to wear masks after all Chinese coronavirus restrictions are lifted next month, the UK’s environment secretary has said.

While the end of restrictions was pushed back four weeks from June 21st to July 19th, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said this week early indications are that the COVID-19 data looks encouraging and does point to a full end of measures by next month.

Following reports from The Times that the government will scrap social distancing and the mask mandate on the 19th, Environment Secretary George Eustace told Sky News on Thursday that there would be no “legal compulsion” to wear face coverings after that date.

Mr Eustace said: “What we want to do on the 19th of July — and the prime minister said the data looks good to be able to have that end — is to remove all of these legal restrictions. That’s all of the legal requirements to do things to be taken away completely.

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

Asked to confirm that from the 19th of July, Britons will not have to wear masks inside in public spaces, Mr Eustace said: “As far as we’re concerned, there won’t be a legal compulsion for you to.”

Wearing masks in indoor public settings such as shops, medical facilities, and on public transport has been the law since the Summer of 2020.

While government ministers might be saying now that masks will no longer be required after the year-long mandate, senior scientists — including those that advise the government — seem to believe that wearing masks could continue long-term, and perhaps even “forever”.

Earlier this month, Professor Susan Michie, an alleged communist and member of the government’s influential Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), said that “behaviours” such as social distancing and wearing masks would need to keep going “in the long term” and possibly “forever to some extent because this isn’t going to be the last pandemic”.

While Dr David Nabarro, a special envoy on COVID-19 for the World Health Organization (WHO), claimed that masks and social distancing could be required locally in areas of high infection.

Dr Nabarro had told Sky News on Wednesday 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. Right now we can’t say that.”

Meanwhile, another member of SAGE, Dr Susan Hopkins, who is also the chief COVID-19 advisor to Public Health England, said this week that the UK “may have to do further lockdowns this Winter”.

Conservative lockdown-sceptic MPs have suggested in recent weeks that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is too unduly influenced by SAGE advisors, who pressure the British leader to go against his “instinct” to restore freedoms to Britons by continuing with a month more of restrictions.

Sir Charles Walker said that he was “extremely pessimistic” about the measures being ended by July, saying it was “clearly not the instinct of scientists advising [the prime minister]” to fully restore freedoms in the country.

“I find it impossible to believe that Sir Mark Walport, Professor Susan Michie of SAGE will be arguing in favour of ending lockdown in four weeks’ time,” Sir Charles had said.

Predicting: “They [Walport and Michie] will obviously not be arguing in favour of ending lockdown. They’re on SAGE; they spend a lot of time speaking to journalists, as well. But it’s clear to me in the balance of probability this lockdown will go on through the Summer and tighten up in the Autumn and Winter.”

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