Majority of Britons Back Continued Mask Mandates, Would Feel Unsafe Without Them

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

Strong majorities of Britons support masks being “mandatory” on public transport and in shops, while seven in ten admit they would not feel “safe” in a crowded or enclosed space if others were not covering their faces.

A series of questions posed by YouGov on the day that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce the end of coronavirus restrictions shows Britons back by a large proportion the government continuing to legally force people to wear masks in certain settings.

Seventy-one per cent of people think that “face masks should continue to be mandatory on public transport for a further period of time”, with just one in five (21 per cent) disagreeing.

Two-thirds (66 per cent) also believe that wearing masks should be mandatory in shops and other enclosed spaces for the time being.

While a combined 70 per cent said that they would feel “less safe” being in a “crowded or un-ventilated place” with people not wearing masks.

When the responses were broken down by political affiliation and Leave/Remain, Leave was less enthusiastic than Remain over continued mandatory masks. However, the proportion of those who backed Brexit was still in the majority for backing continued laws on mask-wearing.

More than eight in ten (83 per cent) of Remainers backed masks on public transport compared to 67 per cent of Leavers with Labour (79 per cent), the Tories (67 per cent), and the Liberal Democrats (82 per cent) all backing in the majority the continued mandate for masking-up on busses and trains.

The breakdown was similar for support for wearing masks in shops — Labour: 74 per cent; Conservatives: 61 per cent; Liberal Democrats: 77 per cent — with majorities of Leavers (60 per cent) and Remainers (78 per cent) also backing the hypothetical question.

Seventy-four per cent of Labour, 68 per cent of Conservative, and 83 per cent of Lib Dem voters said they would feel unsafe in enclosed spaces if others were wearing masks, as did 81 per cent of Remainers and 65 per cent of Leavers.

While Prime Minister Johnson is expected to announce the lifting of the mask mandate on July 19th on Monday, others, including scientists advising the government, have said that people should still continue to wear them voluntarily. While the powerful trade union Unite is calling for masks on public transport to remain mandatory. Airline RyanAir has said it will not budge on its masking rules for passengers, with reports fellow budget airline EasyJet is considering doing the same.

Several lockdown sceptics have expressed their concern over the eagerness with which Britons have surrendered their freedoms and backed coronavirus restrictions in the last 16 months.

In early March, almost to the year that the first restrictions were imposed, Conservative MP Sir Desmond Swayne had described as “unnerving” the “enthusiasm with which people have embraced the diminution of their civil liberties and their ordinary lives”.

Last month, Conservative Party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith claimed that Britons had been “worried and frightened” into accepting lockdown because of “incorrect” forecasts by scientists advising the government which do not take into account the efficacy of vaccines.

Sir Iain made the comments after the prime minister announced the delay of ending restrictions from June 21st to July 19th at the earliest, with a poll finding 72 per cent backed postponing freedoms.

Driving Britons to fear may have been by design, however. The authors of a paper prepared for the influential Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE), which advises the government on its pandemic strategy, from March 22nd, 2020, suggested that emotional manipulation and fear could be used to encourage people to accept restrictions.

Under a section of the report headed “Persuasion”, the authors wrote that, at the time, “a substantial number of people still do not feel sufficiently personally threatened” by the virus.

“The perceived level of personal threat needs to be increased among those who are complacent, using hard-hitting emotional messaging. To be effective this must also empower people by making clear the actions they can take to reduce the threat,” the report said.

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