What is the government's policy on mask wearing and how has it changed?

Credit: PA

The scrapping of almost all legal Covid restrictions on July 19 will see the end of mandatory wearing of face coverings in England.

But the government's messaging on the future of the face covering has shifted, with opposition parties criticising the removal of rules.

On July 4, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told Sky News’ Trevor Phillips On Sunday programme that he was looking forward to putting his mask to one side in the near future.

Pressed on whether he would “get rid” of his mask after July 19 if permitted to do so, Mr Jenrick said: “I will. I don’t particularly want to wear a mask.

"I don’t think a lot of people enjoy doing it.”

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A similar position was also taken by Chancellor Rishi Sunak who told the Times CEO summit on 24 June he would stop wearing a mask "as soon as possible" when it ceases to be a legal requirement.

On the same day Environment Secretary George Eustice said he too would not wear a mask when restrictions end.

"I think a lot of people will want to shed those masks," he told Sky News.

But just a week after Mr Jenrick's comments it was vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi's turn to face questions about mask wearing and he had a different message.

On Sunday, Mr Zahawi told ITV News that guidance, set out on Monday, would say people were expected to wear masks in indoor enclosed spaces, although the legal requirement to do so would be dropped.

"There's an expectation for people to do the right thing and the guidance will be very clear on that," he said.

On Monday, Boris Johnson said at a Downing Street briefing: "On the issue of masks, we’re really following the same principle that we’re following with all the legislation that we’ve had in place.

“We’re trying to move towards personal responsibility, people thinking about others as well as about themselves."

There's an expectation for people to do the right thing

On the same evening, Health Secretary Sajid Javid told MPs that it was "expected and recommended" for people to wear face coverings, unless exempt, in crowded indoor spaces like pubs.

Again on Monday, Health Minister Edward Argar told ITV News he would continue to carry his mask in his pocket and wear it in indoor crowded places or as a "common courtesy" when other people felt uncomfortable.

When it comes to wearing masks on public transport, there has been a less dramatic shift with Boris Johnson saying on July 5, the day he announced the shape of the final step of the roadmap, that "there’s a big difference between travelling on a crowded tube train and sitting late at night in a virtually empty carriage on the main railway line."

Edward Argar tells ITV News he'll wear a mask as 'common courtesy' when needed

At Monday's briefing, the Prime Minister echoed his earlier message, saying: the government would "expect and recommend that people wear masks" on a crowded tube train after July 19.

Likewise, Sajid Javid in the House of Commons said: "If you’re on public transport, let’s say a very crowded Tube, I think it would be sensible to wear a mask – not least for respect for others.

He added: "If you’re the only person in a carriage late at night on the East Coast Mainline then you can choose much more easily not to wear a mask because there’s hardly anyone else around.”

But on Wednesday July 7, we heard from Transport Secretary Grant Shapps that the government would be "very relaxed" if bus and train operators continued to require masks, suggesting that it may not be up to passengers to make their own choice.

"If organisations require it to be a condition of carriage, I’m very relaxed about that, and it’s up to them to do."

The government say they are moving away from 'diktats' to personal responsibility, but the shifting messaging on face coverings is causing some worry about whether the public understand whether they should keep a mask after July 19. 

Now it looks like there will be regional differences in rules of face coverings, with mayors of various areas making the call over national guidance.

London mayor, Sadiq Khan

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has asked Transport for London (TfL) to enforce the use of face coverings on buses and trains as a “condition of carriage”, even after legal restrictions have been lifted on July 19.

The London mayor said he was “not prepared” to put tube, tram and other transport users in the capital “at risk” by removing the rules on face coverings after so-called “freedom day”.

Under the terms of use, enforcement officers would be able to deny access or eject passengers found to be non-compliant while using the transport network.