From 19 July onwards, people in England will be allowed to make their own decisions about what kind of behaviour is safe, and the legal obligation to wear a face mask will disappear, Boris Johnson has announced.
Four Guardian readers share their views.
‘We don’t think it’s worth raising our current risk levels’
For Andrew, who has been running a small DIY and hardware shop in Devon for nearly 20 years, removing the need for face masks “makes absolutely no sense”. He feels that wearing masks for “minimal inconvenience has to be worth it” given that they help reduce transmission.
Because of the size of his shop, which the 54-year-old kept open throughout the pandemic by serving customers from the door, Andrew was hoping to operate a “one-in-one-out” system so people could come inside. “The plan was for it to go back to something like normal,” he said. “My wife and I have had both our jabs, but with children at school and growing case numbers, we don’t think it’s worth raising our current risk levels.
“I feel that in the last week or two the government has gone from being led by the data to it actually just being about politics. I just don’t think it’s going to work.”
‘I’m really scared’
Sally, 53, from Birmingham, is similarly concerned. “I got Covid in March 2020, and I still have long Covid, and am under investigation for heart and lung damage. I used to work as a fitness instructor, now I’m considered vulnerable, even though I’m vaccinated, and I’m really scared.
“If people stop wearing masks, I’ll be too afraid to leave the house, and my daughter is worried about bringing Covid home from school. It feels like it’s more important that the inconveniences affecting the fittest in society fall away, and that young people can go to a nightclub, than that the most vulnerable are protected.”
The mother of four is taking umbrage in particular at health secretary Sajid Javid’s suggestion that the removal of all restrictions will be good for people’s mental health.
“What about the mental health of all the people who are really scared of getting rid of masks and the few restrictions we have left, especially when cases are rising really fast? The mental health of cancer patients, or those who can’t be vaccinated, or those who are still critically vulnerable even after vaccination, or those who are just plain scared of catching it.
“I think most people want to keep masks and restrictions – and it doesn’t feel like the current restrictions are a particular hardship causing lots of mental health problems – in the way that full lockdown clearly did.”
‘We need to get on with our lives’
Mark Barber, 62, from Northampton disagrees. “Nobody wants to wear them. I only wear face masks in a shop because I have to.”
Barber, who works as a sales rep in the building and construction industry, said he meets a lot of people while working who don’t wear face masks. “Just today I heard several people say they’re looking forward to not wearing them. [Face masks] are not as popular as some think they are.”
Barber had Covid in November and has received both doses of the vaccine. “Some people think that at the end of the day we’re going to have to just get it [Covid] and get on with our lives. We can’t live in a bubble. It doesn’t help when the government keeps changing the rules, but the fact that so many people are keen to go on holiday shows it’s time.”
‘We can’t wish Covid away’
But Melissa Branzburg, from London, is looking anxiously towards 19 July.
The 37-year-old, who has been home schooling her eldest two children since before the pandemic began, says the removal of compulsory mask-wearing on public transport and in indoor places such as museums and shops will effectively ground her at home.
“Removing face coverings is really going to limit our ability to leave the house and participate in the economy. While my older primary age children have been happily wearing masks since last March, my four-month-old baby daughter cannot wear a face covering and I don’t want her exposed to this virus when she can’t even tell me how she’s feeling.
“With no guidance on how to keep her safe, it looks like we’ll be keeping up with the stay at home lifestyle. I wish I could feel confident taking the children out as we have been doing recently, but with infection rates so high it will no longer feel safe using public transport, and I don’t have a car.
“If anyone wants my in-person custom, they need to be advertising clearly what they’re doing to keep us safe from an airborne virus. Unfortunately, we can’t wish Covid away.”