MASKS won’t be a legal requirement on public transport from July 19, Matt Hancock has said.
His comments come after Dr Susan Hopkins, the deputy director of Public Health England, suggested the face coverings could be compulsory after the delayed ‘Freedom Day,’ the date when Covid restrictions are due to be lifted.
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Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said masks won’t be a legal requirement on public transport from July 19Credit: AFP
Wearing masks on public transport for journeys longer than 15minutes could be compulsory after July 19Credit: Reuters
Dr Susan Hopkins made the comments while giving evidence to the Commons science committee
The Health Secretary confirmed that covid regulations and laws would be extended until midnight on July 18.
Mr Hancock told MPs in the House of Commons this afternoon: “The regulations themselves, we put this pause in affect by amending the expiry date, so they expire at midnight on the evening of 18 July.
“We also need to align the dates on several other Covid regulations which are essential for keeping us safe… for face coverings on public transport, the regulations which give powers to manage local outbreaks… and the regulations that give local authorities the powers to enforce Covid secure measures for businesses.
“These will all be extended until midnight on the 18 July.
“We don’t want to extend these regulations a day longer than we have to.”
While Mr Hancock made the Government’s position clear about the wearing of masks on public transport the situation about wearing them in shops and other public places is unclear.
Dr Hopkins’ comments came as part of her evidence to the Commons science committee.
Responding to a question from Conservative MP Aaron Bell about what “non-pharmaceutical interventions” (NPIs, or restrictions) might have to remain in place after 19 July, she said that a lot of this would come down to social responsibility, and people taking decisions on things like masks for herself.
Dr Hopkins, who is also the chief medical adviser, NHS Test and Trace, said: “This is a balance. In some countries, like Sweden, they have done a lot through social responsibility.
“In other countries they have legislated heavily.
“So I think there is a middle road, as we have vaccination heavily rolled out, that requires potentially, in some areas where there is higher risk, to look at them [NPIs, or restrictions].
Dr Hopkins said people would have more personal responsibility after July 19Credit: Alamy
“One might consider, for example, transport; for those of us who pack ourselves into the Tube regularly, we may feel more comfortable if everyone else was asked to wear a mask for those very close encounters for potentially periods longer than 15 minutes.”
She also warned that if the Delta variant was “unmitigated”, left to spread without any measures, the R value could be “greater than five and maybe up to seven”.
She told the Science and Technology Committee: “We’re seeing it as much greater transmissibility than Alpha, which had greater transmissibility than the viruses that had gone before unmitigated – so if we were in the real world where we had none of the measures that we were seeing right now – we would estimate R greater than five and maybe up to seven.
Dr Hopkins also warned about the spread of the Delta variant from IndiaCredit: Rex
“So compared to where we were right back at the beginning of this where we thought the R value was 2.5.
“That’s why we need people to have vaccination because that’s a clear mitigation measure, that’s why we need people to take care, take caution, particularly in healthcare settings.”
Dr Hopkins also added she thought people would have more personal responsibility after the new ‘Freedom Day’ of July 19.
She told the committee: “I think there will be a certain amount of social responsibility that people will take, particularly for those that are elderly or immunocompromised or at higher risk of infection.
“I think we will all need to make decisions for ourselves, particularly on wearing masks, using better ventilation, hand hygiene.
“So we may find that some people, not all, will change their behaviours, and particularly those that are more concerned about their health or the health of people they live with, it will be for governments to decide what rules and regulations will need to be in place and what legislation will need to continue after July 19.”
She added: “But in the more general societal areas, such as shops, I think it is going to come down to personal opinions and responsibilities, rather than legislation for the longer term.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson had previously hoped to lift all the Covid restrictions on June 21 but he was forced to push back that date to July 19 after the UK saw a spike in cases which has been attributed to the spread of the Delta variant, originating in India.