BORIS Johnson’s plan to axe masks on buses and trains after July 19 was flung into a tailspin today as a chorus of Labour chiefs, union bosses and top docs vented fury.
A row erupted when local leaders threatened to defy the Prime Minister as he prepared to unveil a Freedom Day bonfire of Covid restrictions at a press conference this evening.
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The PM, pictured at a ceremony celebrating the NHS at St Pauls, will unveil the changes this evening[/caption]
He is expected to drop fines for Brits ditching their masks on public transport and declare wearing face coverings a personal choice.
But doomster Labour mayors and sabre-rattling union bosses sounded off and suggested they could break with the national guidance.
In key developments
- Fines for refusing to wear a masks are expected to be scrapped
- Care home visitors will still be forced to follow measures after July 19
- The work from home guidance is likely to be dropped after July
- Covid cases soared 161 per cent in two weeks but cases remain low
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham tweeted: “I struggle to see how Ministers can drop the requirement to wear masks on public transport without causing real problems for some people who are dependent on it.
“Those more vulnerable to infection or anxious about it will be put in a very unfair position.”
Sadiq Khan also refused to rule out mandatory mask-wearing on the Tube.
A spokesperson for the London Mayor said: “Evidence shows that the wearing of facemasks gives many Londoners the confidence that they can travel safely on public transport.”
TfL boss Andy Byford added: “If Government advice is to drop masks, we will still take into account what our customers have said.”
But City Hall sources suggested that setting their own rules on masks would be difficult to implement in practice.
Union barons raged that binning masks would be “absolutely ridiculous” and agitated for the current guidance to remain.
Unite’s transport rep Bobby Morton blasted: “To end the requirement to wear masks on public transport would be an act of gross negligence by the government.”
Brits are currently forced to wear face coverings on public transport or face up to a £6,400 fine.
Scientists were slow to recommend masks early in the first wave – with top doc Jenny Harries claiming there was no evidence they halted the spread.
They finally changed their tune and fell into line with other countries – insisting they weakened transmission.
Ahead of tonight’s announcement Care Minister Helen Whately said she can’t wait to tear off her mask – but “might” continue using it on the train.
She said: “I’ll be looking at the guidance, I’ll be making a judgement, but I’m not keen to wear one when I don’t need one – personally, it’s not something I enjoy doing.”
Passengers wearing masks at Paddington station this morning[/caption]
Yet doctors railed that masks protect other people – not the wearer – and so the personal choice argument doesn’t hold.
British Medical Association chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: “It makes no sense to stop wearing face masks among the public in enclosed settings such as public transport.
“We know that masks are proven to reduce the spread of the infection if worn by everyone around you including yourself.
“And at a time when we have exceptional high level of cases I don’t understand why we would knowingly want people to become infected.”
Government expert Prof Stephen Reicher piled in that masks were a “crucial mitigation”.
However top boffin Prof said he thought lifting facemask restrictions was fine, though people who are vulnerable may wish to take extra care.
He said Covid “will never go away”, adding that “our grandchildren’s grandchildren will be getting infected”, though he said it will become more like the common cold over time.
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The PM will confirm the lockdown easing at a 5pm press conference, while new Health Secretary Sajid Javid makes the announcement to the Commons.
The PM said last night: “Thanks to the successful rollout of our vaccination programme, we are progressing cautiously through our roadmap. Today we will set out how we can restore people’s freedoms when we reach step 4.
“But I must stress that the pandemic is not over and that cases will continue to rise over the coming weeks.
“As we begin to learn to live with this virus, we must all continue to carefully manage the risks from Covid and exercise judgement when going about our lives.”