Sir Keir Starmer has said mask wearing should continue as he accused Boris Johnson of being ‘reckless’ for lifting all remaining Covid restrictions at once.
Yesterday the Prime Minister unveiled plans for England’s long awaited ‘Freedom Day’ on July 19, which will see an end to the vast majority of coronavirus rules.
There will be no more limits on social contact or capacity caps for large events and pubs will no longer be restricted by table service.
Requirements to wear face coverings will be lifted – but guidance will suggest people might choose to do so in ‘enclosed and crowded places’.
As the law is lifted, Johnson urged people to instead ‘exercise their personal responsibility’.
In response to the PM’s announcement, the Labour leader said masks should continue to be mandatory in ‘enclosed spaces and on public transport’.
Sir Keir noted the rapidly rising infection rates as he issued perhaps his most critical response to Johnson’s coronavirus plans yet.
He told reporters: ‘To throw off all protections at the same time when the infection rate is still going up is reckless.
‘We need a balanced approach, we need to keep key protections in place, including masks, including ventilation and crucially, something we’ve been asking for through the pandemic, proper payments to those who need to self-isolate.’
Sir Keir may have public opinion on his side as well, with a YouGov survey of 2,749 British adults indicating that 71% of the public want masks to remain compulsory on public transport and in shops beyond this month.
Mask wearing is likely to be a key point of conflict between Johnson and his critics in the coming weeks.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan is considering possibly instructing people using the capital’s public transport network to consider wearing masks.
He said: ‘The wearing of face coverings on public transport helps to reduce the spread of Covid, and crucially gives Londoners confidence to travel on the network, which is vital to our economic recovery.
‘Further discussions are now planned with Transport for London, the Department for Transport and other transport providers before we decide our next steps.’
The Unite trade union, representing tens of thousands of public transport workers, said it would be ‘an act of gross negligence by the Government’ to end the requirement to wear face coverings on public transport in two weeks.
During his announcement yesterday, Johnson accepted that the pandemic was ‘far from over’ and said Covid cases could top 50,000 by July 19 and that ‘we must reconcile ourselves, sadly, to more deaths from Covid’.
He added: ‘We must be honest with ourselves that if we can’t reopen our society in the next few weeks, when we will be helped by the arrival of summer and by the school holidays, then we must ask ourselves: when will we be able to return to normal?’
He said any further delay would ‘run the risk of either opening up at a very difficult time when the virus has an edge’ in the autumn or winter or ‘putting everything off to next year’.
Chief scientist Sir Patrick Vallance said cases were doubling every nine days and hospitalisations were rising at a lower rate.
He said the vaccine has ‘weakened the link’ between cases and hospital admissions but has ‘not broken it’.
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