Ministers scrapped mandatory masks to save economy – after report showed hospitality sector would lose £4bn due to public’s dislike for covering faces at sporting, music and arts events
- Boris Johnson declared mask laws would be axed but admitted people would be encouraged to wear them
- Scientists told him that they should be made mandatory to tackle Covid spread
- But research shown to cabinet warned any diktat would cost the economy £4bn
- Britons planned to avoid sporting events and gigs if they had to wear a mask
Boris Johnson dumped his mandatory masks diktat from July 19 to prevent the events hospitality industry losing £4billion because the public were determined to boycott football matches and gigs if they were forced to wear one, it emerged today.
The Prime Minister and the cabinet was shown research that public disdain for wearing face coverings would see millions continue to avoid sporting, music and arts events as society opens up, further decimating those sectors.
The decision to dump masks came despite SAGE scientists warning ministers they were a ‘baseline measure’ that should be kept ‘to control a resurgence in infections’.
A Whitehall source told the i newspaper that a research paper warning this would cost the economy £4billion was the ‘driving force’ for scrapping England’s mandatory mask order. As a result there will be no masks at football and gigs from July 19.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared that mask laws would be axed despite pressure from scientists
Research found that some people would stay away from gigs and sport (Euro 2020 semi pictured last night) if they had to wear a mask
There have been warnings of a new so-called ‘culture war’ erupting over coverings as lockdown restrictions are scrapped from July 19
Britain’s daily Covid hospital admissions have reached a four month high, rising by 50 per cent in a week. Department of Health figures also showed hospitalisations reached 406 on June 30
- Sainsbury’s: Chief Executive Simon Roberts said: ‘I think in the end it will come down to the choices that individual customers and colleagues want to make. It is going to be driven by customer and by colleague choice.’ He added: ‘We’re clearly going to follow the Government advice, we’ll continue to listen to our customers and colleagues and we’ll respect and support the individual choices the customers and colleagues want to make.’
- Westfield: Jacinta Rowsell, general manager at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, said: ‘At the moment we actively ensure our guests are wearing masks when they’re visiting the centre, and with the changes post July 19 we will continue to encourage guests to wear masks when they’re coming into the centre.’
- Asda: Asda says it is waiting for the government guidance to change before announcing its role.
- British Airways: BA is expected to keep masks, with a spokesman saying: ‘We keep our policies under constant review.’
- Tui: The firm hinted travellers could be required to wear face coverings after restrictions relax further.
- Ryanair: A spokesman said: ‘In order to protect the health of our customers and crew, the use of face masks will still be mandatory across all Ryanair flights.’
- easyJet: A spokesman said: ‘At present there are no changes to easyJet’s on-board mask policy. We continue to be guided by our in-house medical adviser and a number of key industry governing bodies… and at present their guidance around the wearing of masks on board remains unchanged.’
- Virgin Atlantic: The firm hinted travellers could be required to wear face coverings after restrictions relax further.
- City Pub Group: Chief Executive Clive Watson said staff will be asked to wear masks with customers encouraged to do the same.
Scientists remain concerned about the decision, with Dominic Harrison, director of public health for Blackburn-with-Darwen in Lancashire, a Delta hotspot, saying: ‘I generally share the view of some colleagues that it is time for us to open up as much as possible – but the three things we need to make this safer are; to get on with vaccination for those aged 12-plus as soon as possible, increase ventilation measures in schools and other public indoor space and retain mask wearing (as now) in enclosed public space.
‘With these mitigations we should be able to have maximum freedoms and minimal risk – but we need to be really clear – we will still not be completely risk free.’
But sociology professor Robert Dingwall, who sits on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said that the benefits of masks ‘have always been uncertain because the quality of the evidence in both directions is so weak’.
The Nottingham Trent University academic said he would stop wearing a covering from the so-called ‘Freedom Day’ in ‘solidarity’ with various groups including ‘people with communication difficulties, whether auditory and unable to lip-read’ and ‘all the small children whose education has been disrupted by the lack of visual clues, especially in language development’.
Speaking to Sky News, Professor Dingwall said he accepted that others may take a different view but went on: ‘I will not allow them to suggest that I am less moral or caring and I will expect them to respect my choices as I respect theirs.’
At a Downing Street press conference on Monday evening, Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared that mask laws would be axed – but sowed confusion after admitting that people would still be encouraged to wear coverings in ‘enclosed and crowded places’.
He confirmed that he would continue to wear a mask in certain scenarios out of politeness. Mr Johnson was echoed by Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, who said he would cover his mouth and nose when in crowded spaces, when asked to by a competent authority, or if he felt that not wearing a mask would make another person uncomfortable.
Sir Patrick Vallance, the Chief Scientific Adviser, added: ‘I’m exactly the same in terms of mask-wearing.’
Experts appear divided on whether people in England should be asked to continue to wear face masks after July 19, with Dr Laurence Aitchison, from the department of computer science at the University of Bristol, saying: ‘Our research has shown mask-wearing reduces the spread of Covid-19 by around 25 per cent if everyone wears them.’
Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said he thought lifting face mask restrictions was fine, though people who are vulnerable may wish to take extra care as he warned Covid ‘will never go away’.
But masks are controversial among anti-lockdown Tory backbenchers. Ex-minister Steve Baker, the deputy chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of MPs, told the Telegraph newspaper ‘how easily we have forgotten that at the beginning of this crisis, the scientific advice was that the public shouldn’t wear masks’.
Shoppers and travellers will face a confusing patchwork of rules after July 19 as some firms will still demand they wear face masks, it emerged last night.
Ministers have announced that face coverings will no be longer be required by law anywhere in England, including on public transport.
But Britain’s largest shopping centre yesterday joined a growing list of companies – including many major airlines – warning they will still ask customers to wear them.
Amid the confusion, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said he would not wear a face mask on a quiet train once restrictions are eased – even if there was a sign asking him to do so.
Jacinta Rowsell, manager of Westfield shopping centre in White City, west London, revealed yesterday that staff will still ‘encourage’ customers to wear masks after July 19.
‘We are very focused on the fact that guests coming to the centre want to feel safe,’ she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. But she acknowledged that individual stores ‘may implement their own policy’ on wearing masks.
Meanwhile, the boss of Sainsbury’s said he expects customers will no longer need to use face coverings in its stores.
Chief executive Simon Roberts said he would consult with staff on their views but added that the decision to wear one would be down to individual choice.
Other leading retailers including John Lewis, Marks & Spencer and the Co-op were unable to say yet whether they will still ask shoppers to wear masks. Tesco is understood to be conducting an internal review into its mask-wearing policy.
Do face masks work? Studies find coverings reduce spread of Covid and chance of inhaling infected droplets
Most scientific studies conducted to date suggest face masks do reduce the spread of coronavirus in enclosed indoor settings.
A number of studies have concluded that face coverings reduce the spread of airborne droplets that carry covid bacteria between people.
The latest data, from the Lancet, studies in China and Thailand as well as on the USS Theodore Roosevelt, suggests a mask stops up to 80 per cent of droplets from being released into the air by a person wearing a mask, and they also block around 50 per cent of them being inhaled by a potential victim.
Covid-19 is spread through these airborne droplets when people cough, sneeze or talk – and standing in close proximity can assist transmission.
The US Centers for Disease Control found in one real-world data experiment the coverings were useful. Two hair stylists who had Covid symptoms worked on 139 customers in eight days.
Everyone involved wore masks and no one out of the 67 who volunteered to be tested came back positive. Another experiment in China looked at 124 houses where there had been a case of the virus.
It found transmission was reduced by 79 per cent by wearing a face covering. And an example also came from the USS Theodore Roosevelt – a cramped vessel with tight living quarters and makes social distancing hard.
But the study found when using face coverings there was a 70 per cent reduced risk of infection. Meanwhile in Thailand a retrospective case-control study discovered out of 1,000 spoken to during a contact tracing probe, those who said they wore a covering had a 70 per cent reduced chance of catching Covid.
And the Lancet in its report looked at 172 studies from 16 countries and concluded wearing a mask gives a person just a three per cent chance of getting the virus. Edinburgh University looked into the different types of masks people can wear and found homemade ones can be effective.
Researchers tested seven types, including surgical masks, respirators, lightweight and heavy-duty face shields and handmade masks. All of them – except ones with a valve – reduced the distance droplets could get by at least 90 per cent.
The CDC says: ‘Experimental and epidemiological data support community masking to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2. The prevention benefit of masking is derived from the combination of source control and wearer protection for the mask wearer.
‘The relationship between source control and wearer protection is likely complementary and possibly synergistic, so that individual benefit increases with increasing community mask use,’ the agency added.
The WHO says: ‘Masks should be used as part of a comprehensive strategy of measures to suppress transmission and save lives; the use of a mask alone is not sufficient to provide an adequate level of protection against COVID-19.
‘If COVID-19 is spreading in your community, stay safe by taking some simple precautions, such as physical distancing, wearing a mask, keeping rooms well ventilated, avoiding crowds, cleaning your hands, and coughing into a bent elbow or tissue. Check local advice where you live and work. Do it all!’
However, airlines including Jet2, Ryanair and EasyJet have said passengers must continue to wear face masks aboard their planes.
Although the legal requirement to wear face masks will be lifted from Step Four of the roadmap, Downing Street has said firms will have the choice of still mandating masks.
In the Commons, Mr Javid defended the Government’s position on masks, insisting it was the ‘right policy’. And he rejected a demand from Labour for masks to continue to be required by law, saying: ‘There is a role for masks in dealing with a pandemic and particularly when you have a pandemic with no wall of defence against that pandemic…
‘When you’ve got the best vaccine rollout programme in the world then you need to start moving away from the restrictions.’
Earlier, the Health Secretary said he would continue carrying a face mask with him ‘for the foreseeable future’. But he said he would not always put it on even if requested. ‘If I was on crowded tube in London I would wear a mask,’ he told the Today programme.
‘If I was on the West Coast mainline going up to my constituency and it’s late at night and there are about three people in the carriage, even if it said ‘we recommend a mask’, I wouldn’t wear a mask.’
Scrapping the legal requirement to wear masks will not ‘completely change the game’ in the fight against Covid-19, according to a leading scientist.
Dr Chris Smith said while it is ‘sensible’ to wear a mask in crowded places, they will not be the difference between a mass outbreak and no outbreak.
The Cambridge University virologist also warned cases in the UK are likely already topping 50,000 a day as many younger people show no symptoms.
He spoke after Boris Johnson announced all legal coronavirus restrictions will be lifted in England on July 19.
This will mean people no longer have to social distance or wear masks and businesses that have previously been unable to open will be given the go-ahead.
The Prime Minister admitted that Covid cases could soar, resulting in more deaths – with Health Secretary Sajid Javid warning cases could hit 100,000 a day.
But Dr Smith yesterday told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme the country’s successful vaccine programme had made a massive difference.
Nicola Sturgeon has faced pressure after the Scottish Government disclosed that masks will continue to be a legal requirement in Scotland – even after Freedom Day on August 9.
Dr Smith said while masks were helpful in crowded areas such as train carriages, using them was unlikely to stop a mass outbreak.
He said: ‘To be honest with you, this is not going to completely change the game and make a difference between mass outbreak and no outbreak. The vast majority of the transmission when you get outbreaks do happen in people’s homes where people don’t tend to resort to the vast majority of these sorts of mitigations.’
Dr Smith said it was ‘sensible’ for people to make their own assessment of risk and to judge situations and advised that the public remain ‘cautious and take the steps that are sensible for them to keep themselves safe’. He added: ‘That may include using things like face coverings in crowded environments where you have no control over whether people pile into the train carriage you’re in.’
Mr Johnson has faced a backlash after he said there could be up to 50,000 cases a day by July 19.
But Dr Smith said: ‘Realistically there are probably already 50,000 cases a day, may be higher. Because remember, about half of people who have this coronavirus don’t have any symptoms and it maybe even higher than that because the people that are catching it at the moment are younger people.’
Dr Smith added: ‘We have got the best part of 90 per cent of adults with one dose of vaccine under their belts and we’ve got two-thirds with two vaccines under their belt.
‘These really do make a difference, they translate what was a potentially lethal infection for some into an inconvenience, but not a severe illness.’
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