Covid rules dropped: English face mask requirements change

Shops and trains are among the places customers will be asked to mask up

Shoppers pack Oxford Street in London on December 27, 2021. AP

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Legal measures requiring masks and Covid passes in England have been dropped, but shoppers and commuters in some settings will still be asked to wear face coverings.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the success of the vaccine programme and a better understanding of treatment for the virus was “allowing us to cautiously return to Plan A, restoring more freedoms to this country”.

From Thursday, masks are not required by law in any setting, and a legal requirement for National Health Service Covid passes for entry to venues such as nightclubs has been scrapped.

As the focus moves away from legal measures, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said masks would now be “a matter of personal judgment”.

Public health guidance urging people to wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces if coming into contact with strangers will remain in place, the government said.

It said organisations would be able to choose if they required Covid passes from those visiting their venues.

The latest retraction of restrictions follows the dropping of guidance to work from home last week, and advice for masks in classrooms forstaff and pupils being scrapped.

From Thursday, the Department for Education has also removed national guidance on the use of masks in communal areas of educational settings.

“As we learn to live with Covid, we need to be clear-eyed that this virus is not going away, so if you haven’t already, please come forward for your first, second or booster jab,” Mr Javid said

Scrapping the measures has been welcomed by some but others have urged people to “be considerate to those around them” when it comes to choosing to wear a mask, and to “be respectful” of policies in certain settings.

Sainsbury’s and John Lewis said their customers would be asked to wear masks, although the latter acknowledged it would ultimately come down to personal choice.

The British Retail Consortium said the changes would “enable shopping to return to a more normal experience for customers, employees and businesses”.

But its chief executive, Helen Dickinson, said: “Retailers ask customers to be considerate to those around them when choosing whether to wear a face covering and to respect the decision of other customers.”

It is “essential” that retailers clearly communicate their mask policy to customers, said Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman.

“While no longer a legal requirement, many stores will still have a policy of asking customers to wear face coverings whilst shopping, and that should be respected," Mr Lowman said.

“Covid-related abuse, especially around the wearing of face coverings, has been a significant problem for retailers and colleagues throughout the pandemic.

"So we ask all customers to be respectful of the policies in place in their local shops.”

Shop workers’ union Usdaw welcomed that some stores would keep Covid-19 safety measures in place.

Its general secretary, Paddy Lillis, said the end of mandatory masks in shops “despite the concerns of shop workers” was "deeply disappointing".

Meanwhile, commuters on London’s public transport network will still be required to wear masks, with the city’s mayor Sadiq Khan calling on people to “do the right thing”.

A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group said train companies would ask passengers to wear masks “out of courtesy to others”.

“We expect most passengers will do the right thing and follow this advice,” the spokesman said.

The withdrawal of the requirement for Covid passes has been welcomed by the hospitality industry.

Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, described the requirement as a “debilitating and divisive mitigation” and said businesses across the night-time economy would celebrate the change.

Mr Kill said the measure left “many businesses now concerned that they will struggle to survive beyond February”. He called for more government support.

Shaun Hinds, chief executive at Manchester Central, which calls itself one of the UK’s leading events venues, described the end of Plan B as “a very positive move”.

Mr Hinds said “a number of significant inquiries for events in 2022” and new bookings for 2023 indicate a “real appetite and eagerness in the live-events sector as it continues in its recovery”.

The Department of Health said the changes come after a review of data last week including infections, vaccine efficacy, Covid-19 pressure on the NHS, workforce absences, public behaviour and opinions from the scientific community.

Updated: January 27, 2022, 11:46 AM
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