Face mask use in UK falls by millions after rules relaxation

Mandatory wearing of face coverings in shops, restaurants and on public transport was dropped on July 19

Millions of Britons stopped wearing face masks this summer. Photo: Hollie Adams/Getty Images
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More than four million Britons stopped wearing face masks over the summer, official data reveals.

The use of face coverings peaked at the beginning of May when 98 per cent of people said they had worn one when leaving the house in the past week.

This rate fell to 89 per cent in September, representing a drop of 4.5 million people, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed.

This suggested a shift in mood as the vaccination rate increased and millions of people headed back to work and school.

As of Thursday, there were more than 44.2 million fully vaccinated people in the UK, representing 66.3 per cent of the population.

A recent YouGov survey also pointed to a change in attitude among people in the UK when it comes to wearing face coverings in public.

Asked if they had worn a mask when in a public place over the past fortnight, 61 per cent said yes.

This represented a fall of 10 percentage points since mid-July.

The rule laying out the mandatory wearing of masks in shops, restaurants and on public transport in England was dropped on July 19.

But this week the government signalled a possible return to the order in its Covid-19 winter plan.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s blueprint to take the country through the winter season without the need for further lockdowns said people should “wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed settings”.

And it left the door open for a return to compulsory masks if the crisis worsens.

Critics responded by pointing out the packed Commons this week, where many lawmakers sat on the benches unmasked.

Yesterday, Health Secretary Sajid Javid was pressed on the gulf between the government’s official advice and how ministers were behaving.

Mr Javid said a photograph of the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, showing ministers around the table with their faces uncovered, was consistent with that advice.

He insisted Tory MPs do not need to wear masks in the Commons because they are not “strangers”.

But the British Medical Association (BMA) said the remarks “send a message that the pandemic is over”.

The BMA said ministers should be “leading by example”.

Mr Javid told Sky News: “What we said is that people should consider wearing masks in crowded places when they are with strangers, when they are with people they are not normally spending time with.”

Asked about the Conservative MPs who were not wearing masks, he said: “They are not strangers.

“Conservative backbenchers, whether they are in Parliament, in the chamber itself or other meeting rooms, you have to take measures that are appropriate for the prevalence of Covid at the time.”

Addressing the remarks, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, council chairman at the BMA, said members of the government should “lead by example”.

“As the Government’s own health advisers recognise, we are at a critical moment in the development of the pandemic," he said.

“For a Government which has extolled the importance of personal responsibility to show so little personal responsibility themselves is quite shocking.

“Ministers should be leading by example.”

Updated: November 22, 2021, 8:41 AM