People will no longer be forced to wear facial coverings from July 19 as England ends its third Covid-19 lockdown, communities secretary Robert Jenrick has announced.
Jenrick said on Sunday that “the state won’t be telling you what to do” after so-called Freedom Day in just over two weeks’ time, reflecting the success of the government’s vaccination programme.
“I think we are going to now move into a period where there won’t be legal restrictions,” he told Sky News. “The state won’t be telling you what to do, but you will want to exercise a degree of personal responsibility and judgment — different people will come to different conclusions on things like masks, for example.”
Jenrick’s comments came just days after the British Medical Association, the trade body for doctors, called for people to keep wearing masks to stop surging case numbers having a “devastating impact” on the NHS and economy.
But asked if he would stop wearing a mask, Jenrick said: “I will. I don’t particularly want to wear a mask. I don’t think a lot of people enjoy doing it.”
Scientists have raised concerns about the final lifting of restrictions on July 19 when millions of people will not be fully immunised as the data showed cases jumped by 74 per cent week on week.
Boris Johnson, the prime minister, is set to announce more details this week on precisely which restrictions will be terminated later this month.
Johnson is expected to end restrictions on mass gatherings, reopen nightclubs and could also end the one-metre social distancing rule.
There are also likely to be changes to self-isolation rules, according to briefings by Downing Street.
People who have received two doses of a vaccine will not have to self-isolate or take coronavirus tests if they are alerted that they have come into contact with someone carrying the virus, under plans being considered by Number 10.
Also the rules could be changed so that children will not be forced to self-isolate at home if others in their “school bubble” get a positive test, according to officials. Instead schools would insist on regular testing for pupils under the proposals being discussed.
Officials said they did not recognise a report that the enforced use of track and trace measures in bars, restaurants, hairdressers, gyms and museums would be dropped.
The government has loosened most restrictions over the past month through a phased “road map” out of lockdown, but the final reopening was delayed from June 21 to July 19.
Sajid Javid, health secretary, wrote that there were both economic and health arguments for “opening up” after three lengthy lockdowns.
“The pandemic has hit some groups disproportionately hard. Rules that we have had to put in place have caused a shocking rise in domestic violence and a terrible impact on so many people’s mental health,” he wrote in the Mail on Sunday newspaper.
Jenrick told Sky News that the government wanted people to “return to normality as quickly as possible” and “learn to live with the virus” given that 86 per cent of people have now had at least one jab.