‘I do not have confidence in the government’: Meet the people who will keep wearing face masks

‘I do not have confidence in the government’: Meet the people who will keep wearing face masks
The mandatory requirement to wear a face mask is expected to be dropped in England from 19 July. Joanna Whitehead speaks to people who will be continuing wearing coverings even if it becomes voluntary

Boris Johnson is expected to confirm that face masks will become voluntary in England under new rules from 19 July, rather than being mandatory on places like public transport and in shops and supermarkets.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, the Minister for Housing Robert Jenrick said that the public will have to exercise “personal responsibility” as the country prepares to lift the final legal restrictions later this month.

While Mr Jenrick recognised that people would “come to different conclusions” over mask wearing, he added that he trusted people “to exercise good judgement”. According to reports, Mr Johnson is also expected to say that there will be an end to the one-metre plus social distancing rule.

Health Minister Helen Whately has already said that she “can’t wait to not have to wear a mask“ when restrictions allow. Speaking to Sky News on Monday, she said: “I know, like many others, I can’t wait to not have to wear a mask, but I will be cautious and try and make the right judgements and follow guidance on this.”

However, the British Medical Association (BMA) has urged the government to retain face masks on public transport and in shops. The BMA’s council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul stated that the organisation was not calling for the reopening to be postponed but “targeted measures”, such as wearing face masks in crowded areas, should be retained.

Elsewhere, the Medical Director of NHS England Professor Stephen Powis added he “might choose” to continue to wear a face covering “in a crowded, indoor environment”, while mayors of some of England’s Covid hotspots, including Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle, have called for mandatory mask wearing to continue as well.

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has also urged the prime minister to keep mask wearing on public transport.

The decision on whether to wear a face mask continues to divide people, particularly as Covid-19 cases rise throughout England, assisted by the arrival of the Delta variant. In the last seven days, 173,662 people have tested positive for Covid in the UK. That is an increase of 67 per cent on the previous week.

The Independent spoke to those who will continue to wear their face masks even if restrictions are lifted later this month.

Dan, 39, Folkestone

“Of all the ways the pandemic has impacted our day-to-day lives, wearing a small piece of fabric across my face when I go in a shop is pretty low down on the priority list”

I’m planning to wear a face mask beyond 19 July because despite the understandable optimism around the vaccine programme, I still do not have confidence in the government position that this situation is completely under control. Wearing a mask seems like the best precaution to stay as safe as possible, and to keep others safe.

Of all the ways the pandemic has impacted our day-to-day lives, wearing a small piece of fabric across my face when I go in a shop is pretty low down on the priority list. It’s not a big deal for me. I enjoy pretty good health – I’m not doing it to protect myself – it’s about signalling to other people that this is something hasn’t gone away yet and that there is still a responsibility to keep people safe.

I do expect that there will be a degree of pushback from members of the public who have had enough or who just aren’t down with the whole social distancing thing in the first place, who might have things to say about my decision. But if I let that affect my judgement, I’ll be letting down the people who actually might benefit from me [wearing a mask].

I think my duty is to people who might not have been able to work from home during the pandemic. I’ve been working from home since March last year and I’m very aware that this is a privilege that not everyone is able to enjoy. Not taking reasonable precautions to keep everyone safe is abdicating responsibility and enormously selfish.

Is wearing a face mask a moral duty?

Lauren, 30, Hertfordshire

“For me, it’s a moral duty to protect more vulnerable people. We should care enough about each other to keep people safe”

I think wearing face masks should continue to be mandatory for lots of reasons, not least that it protects other people. It’s such a small thing we can do to keep ourselves safe. I’m so used to wearing my mask now that it’s like second nature – and I’ll continue to wear it.

The cost [to me] is very small, but the reward is that, to my knowledge, I have not contracted Covid. I’ve also not spread Covid and that is something I can live with. If I hadn’t worn my mask, I could have contracted Covid or I could have given it to someone else and they could have died. For me, it’s a moral duty to protect more vulnerable people. We should care enough about each other to keep people safe.

Also, I’ve only been sick once in two years. Before Covid, I worked in an office and used to get every cough and cold going. I am keeping the mask! Being poorly is so s**t! Wearing a mask makes me feel more comfortable, it keeps me healthy and it stops me making other people sick. I feel like I can live my life a bit more when I’m wearing a mask.

Grace, 31, Leeds

“I will never stop wearing a mask on an airplane now. Everybody seems to get a cold or gets sniffles”

The decision to lift the rules on mask wearing is ridiculous, in my opinion – you can’t just stop catching Covid-19 at midnight on 18 July. The risks don’t just end the day before. It makes me feel very angry with the government and Boris Johnson and the fact that he seems to be disregarding advice from people who know better [Professor Callum Semple of the government’s Sage group said he “probably will” continue wearing a mask].

It makes me worry that the government might be making decisions based on how they can get more people out shopping and spending money; are they putting the economy first rather than people’s health? This is something I think we’ve seen with the football starting up again, yet maternity assessment centres in hospitals still won’t always let you have a visitor with you, even if you are in extreme pain or you’ve miscarried.

I plan to wear a face mask until January, then reassess the situation based on how many cases we have, its severity and whether we have another variant. And I will never stop wearing a mask on an airplane now. I just think, why not? Everybody seems to get a cold when they go on holiday or gets sniffles and it’s just a really good way of minimising that risk.

I don’t see why people make such a fuss about it [wearing face masks]. I’m pregnant and get breathless and I struggle to wear a mask – sometimes I’m struggling – but you just push through. It’s not that big a deal.

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