By Vicky Witts | Head of Comment
The 19th of July has marked a significant turning-point in COVID-19 regulations in England, as almost all social distancing measures have been eradicated. One key change this brings is that people are no longer required by law to wear face-coverings while indoors. The government has recommended, however, that the public should “exercise a degree of personal responsibility and judgement” if they choose to wear them in crowded places.
This announcement has created much uncertainty about if and when people should still wear masks while inside – not only for the public but also for businesses and open spaces. Supermarkets have taken slightly different approaches. In Sainsburys, wearing a facemask is the individual colleague and customer’s decision, Lidl contrastingly, will keep up their signs, and encourage people to wear masks inside if possible. Therefore, it is evident that there are a mixed messages in terms of the use of facemasks for the foreseeable future.
Although rule changes have not yet been announced by the Welsh Government, the general uncertainty that most people are feeling towards COVID-19 regulations does need to be addressed by members of the British Government as a whole, or we are at risk of similar confusion when Welsh rules do change.
Evidently, there are many different arguments both for and against the continued use of face-coverings. Therefore, it is important to consider both viewpoints when making your own personal decision about what you will choose to do.
Why may some people still choose to wear a mask?
Whilst there are no longer rules governing the use of face masks, many people are still making the decision to keep using them for a variety of different reasons. For some people, this is because they have not yet had the opportunity to get their second vaccine, and so may be worried about insufficient virus protection. Furthermore, simply having the vaccine does not stop you from spreading the virus, and so many are maintaining the use of a mask to keep infection rates down.
According to the Office for National Statistics, two-thirds (64%) of adults in the UK stated that they would choosing to wear a mask regardless of government restrictions. With such a high number of people continuing to use face-coverings, you may consider wearing one. Not because you are worried about catching the virus yourself, but to protect others who still feel that they are vulnerable and need to be protected from COVID-19.
Furthermore, many people may have been, and still are unable to wear face-coverings due to medical exemptions. By continuing to use a mask, you may also help to make people who cannot make the choice feel safer and more at ease about going out in public.
Deciding to not wear a mask
Alternatively, as there are no longer rules in place enforcing the wearing of face masks in public, many people will inevitably choose to no longer use them.
Health minister Helen Whately stated that she “[couldn’t] wait to not have to wear a mask”, and she was not alone in feeling some relief as the restrictions on face-coverings were lifted. Since the pandemic began, there have been ongoing frustrations with the requirement of face-coverings – whether because of glasses steaming up, getting a hot face on a warm day, or simply because we are unable to communicate with the non-verbal cues that we are used to using, like smiling.
Considering that the law no longer requires the use of face-coverings, we should acknowledge that everyone has the right to decide if they are going to wear one. So, in many senses, it is unfair to judge someone if they have made the choice not to.
Having new freedom to make our own choices about face-coverings is undoubtedly positive. It is leading many people to feeling relief that we are returning once again to a sense of normality which we haven’t experienced since before the pandemic began. However, with some people using this freedom to completely abandon face-coverings, and others deciding to continue using them, the decision not to wear one should be done so responsibly.
By deciding to completely disregard the use of face-coverings is a big decision. People should consider that they may be affecting the people around them who feel like they should still be wearing them. However, this is not to say that everyone should be expected to wear them all the time – as the government states, we are no longer required to wear them by law. Nevertheless, everyone has a personal responsibility to ensure that they are not making anyone around them feel uncomfortable or afraid for their own health.
How can we make a judgement?
What is clear about the Government’s statement on face-coverings is that the Prime Minister’s guidance is far too ambiguous for the public to make a confident decision about when to continue using them.
What seems like a very crowded event that requires face-coverings to one may seem perfectly safe to someone else. Whilst some venues and shops are advising people on what would be their preferred choice, the uncertainty of when we are expected to wear masks in general is leading to an uncomfortable sense of guilt, as depending on what those around you are doing, it can feel that you are being judged based on the decision that you make.
Since there has been no clear further guidance, it is going to be up to the public to trust their own judgement and make informed decisions. If you choose not to wear a mask, as is perfectly acceptable in the law, you should perhaps consider how you can do so without affecting those around you. Equally, if you choose to wear a mask, it should be understood that some people are no longer wearing them for a variety of reasons.Victoria Witts Comment