Face masks will no longer be law in England from July 19 - but should you keep wearing one?

ITV News Correspondent reports on how the government stepping away from masks has led to others feel like they need to step in

Face coverings in shops and public transport will no longer be a legal requirement in England from July 19.

However, London mayor Sadiq Khan has said face coverings will still be required on Transport for London services.

Elsewhere, six of England's regional mayors, including West Yorkshire's Tracy Brabin and South Yorkshire's Dan Jarvis, are calling on the government to keep face coverings mandatory on public transport from Monday.The mayors have mandated face coverings in the areas they have control of. In Greater Manchester that includes Metrolink. In West and South Yorkshire, it is limited to bus stations and transport interchanges.

In Scoland and Wales, face masks will remain compulsory in most public indoor settings in the next phase of easing coronavirus restrictions - which is on July 19 for Scotland and August 7 for Wales.

ITV Science Editor Tom Clarke says masks are one of the few defences against the virus we have left

The rules around face coverings in Northern Ireland are expected to be considered next month, but Stormont Executive has already announced that the legal requirement to wear them in places of worship will be removed on July 26.

Although wearing face masks will no longer be a legal requirement in England, here's why experts say you should still be wearing a face covering.

  • Mask wearing reduces transmission by 25%

A study led by the Universities of Bristol, Oxford and Copenhagen found a significant reduction in transmission of the virus when face coverings were worn.

In the largest survey of mask-wearing yet (around 20 million people) researchers took in data from 92 regions across six continents.

The study found mask-wearing reduces Covid-19 transmission by around 25% - if everyone wears them. 

ITV News explains how face coverings work

Dr Laurence Aitchison, a data specialist and senior author on the paper, said the findings come at a time when the law on face coverings is being eased.

The University of Bristol lecturer said "it is a good idea" to wear masks after July 19, especially in public transport and poorly ventilated public indoor settings, and to keep following the pre-July 19 guidance.

He said: "Certainly, I wear a mask in public settings, but there's another point in there - on a day-to-day basis, if you're expected to be around a lot of people with coronavirus, that 25% isn't going to take you very far.

"On an individual level, what matters is the number of people you come into contact with and the fraction of them that are infectious."

He stressed that the July 19 unlocking will be a "worrying time" for vulnerable people as coronavirus rates increase dramatically.

But he said double-jabbed people should still be mindful about catching the virus and passing it on to others.

He said: "I personally will be on the side of saying you should do all of the above, even if you have both jabs, for the protection of other people, because there is still a chance of catching the virus - and just as a matter of politeness, if you're on a train passing everywhere, no one knows you've got the vaccine."

  • We didn't wear face coverings at the beginning of the pandemic - why now?

The scientific evidence on the usefulness of face masks was more limited in the early weeks of the pandemic, as scientists grappled to figure out the virus itself.

Speaking to ITV News in April 2020 Dr Elain Shuo Feng, an epidemiologist from the Oxford Vaccines Group, said data was "limited and mixed".

She added that "culture and supply issues" could have been a driving factor behind different governments moving at different speeds to make mask wearing compulsory.

An investigation by consumer magazine Which? found some face coverings were so ineffective, they failed to capture 93% of harmful particles and were a branded a 'Don't Buy' by the team of scientists.

Which? research looked at a range of brands and styles of face coverings and masks, including those sold by pharmacy chains, supermarkets, high street stores and online retailers.Researchers found the best performing face coverings were able to block more than 99% of potentially harmful bacterial particles – similar to the standard of surgical masks. But the worst only managed to filter out a mere 7%.

'I just think they're wrong - they should be made mandatory': People in Manchester give their thoughts on mask wearing

  • Will Britons keep wearing their face coverings?

Recent polling suggests, despite the change in the law, the majority of people will continue to wear face coverings in public setting.

A survey by by Ipsos Mori found almost three-quarters of Britons are likely to continue wearing face coverings in shops and a majority are also likely to wear them on planes (64%), in theatres and cinemas (60%), in their place of work (59%) and in pubs and restaurants (55%).

Nearly three in four people think wearing masks in places such as shops and public transport is very important for stopping the spread of coronavirus.

Out of those polled, 43% regarded the wearing of face coverings to be essential – up from 37% this time last year.

Older Britons are most likely to view face masks as essential in preventing the spread of the virus, with more than half (54%) of 55-75s, while 42% of 35-54s and only a third of 18-34s said the same.

A representative sample of 1,025 British adults aged 16-75 were interviewed online on July 9.

Coronavirus: What you need to know