Nearly two thirds of adults will continue to wear masks in shops and on public transport after ‘Freedom Day’ next Monday, an Office for National Statistics (ONS) poll has found.
Most legal restrictions are being removed on July 19, but the ONS said some 64% of the public have insisted they plan to keep wearing face coverings.
From Monday, it will no longer be a legal requirement, but the Government has said it still ‘expects and recommends’ that people continue to do so in crowded areas.
The ONS poll found that most adults believe that measures such as wearing a face covering when shopping (90%) and social distancing (88%) to stop the spread of coronavirus are important.
And more than half (57%) of adults said they were worried about the Government’s plan to lift legal restrictions when it moves to Step 4, including a fifth who were ‘very worried’.
The so-called ‘Freedom Day’ has been much-anticipated by businesses and the general public alike for months, ever since the first lockdown was imposed last March.
It is expected to coincide with a surge of people rushing to take holidays abroad, with a number of countries being added to the green travel list on Monday.
However, huge numbers of holidaymakers are also looking to enjoy staycations in the UK instead, amid fears of crowded airports over the coming.
Rising cases and deaths are also continuing to cause concern, even though two-thirds of the adult population have now been double-jabbed.
It comes as:
- Pictures reveal how passengers and shoppers are ALREADY abandoning their facemasks;
- Grant Shapps BACKS London Mayor Sadiq Khan keeping them compulsory on the Tube and buses even though they are NOT required on trains from ‘Freedom Day’;
- Research shows Leave voters are more likely to ditch face coverings when laws are axed;
- Top Sage expert says shops should be allowed to bar people who refuse to cover up;
- Other experts still can’t agree on how much benefit face coverings actually offer;
- Britain posts 51,870 Covid cases as positive tests rise by nearly a third in a week to another six-month high – while deaths jump by 50% to 49;
- Hundreds of British holidaymakers queue for PCR tests and race to airport to fly back to UK before Balearic Islands are added to amber list
Office for National Statistics (ONS) data — based on random swab testing of thousands of people — the number of people infected with the virus in the week ending July 10 was 577,7000, up 73.5 per cent in a week
The ONS analysed responses from 3,824 people in Britain between July 7-11, after the Government announced its plans for Step 4.
It found that anxiety levels increased slightly, continuing what appears to be a gradual rise since early June.
Holidaying abroad was the most popular activity respondents said they were looking forward to when restrictions ease.
Some 54% of adults said this, with younger adults more likely to wish to travel.
It comes as mask rules descended further into chaos this week as Grant Shapps backed London Mayor Sadiq Khan keeping them compulsory on the Tube, buses and taxis – even though they are not required on trains from ‘Freedom Day’.
Mr Khan has broken ranks by announcing the move in the capital despite the government binning all legal restrictions across England from Monday.
However, the Transport Secretary played down the tensions, saying he had ‘expected’ operators to put in place ‘conditions of carriage’ to ensure that passengers were safe on public transport.
The increasingly confused situation means that passengers on trains in and out of London terminals will not need to wear masks during their journeys, but must while travelling around the city.
Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said they would stay on transport in his city, while local leaders in other parts of the country are considering whether to impose their own rules. The Tory West Midlands mayor Andy Street lamented that he does not have powers to take the step, but stressed he ‘expects’ people to cover up.
Unions have warned that the ‘botched’ approach to setting the rules will leave railway workers facing the threat of violence from angry customers.
Mr Khan told BBC Breakfast that around 400 enforcement officers would be deployed to check people are still wearing masks in the capital.
It comes as research shows Britain has a new Brexit divide with Leave voters more willing than Remainers to ditch their masks when the laws demanding their use are scrapped.
More Brexiteers said they planned to stop wearing a face covering after July 19 than said they would continue to voluntarily cover up, by 46 to 41 per cent, YouGov found.
By contrast, some 59 per cent of Remainers said they planned to continue to wear masks to lower the risk that they would spread disease to others.
However, the pollsters also found that there was a significant majority among both Leave and Remain voters for keeping rules demanding masks be worn on public transport.
The latest discussion around face coverings comes after experts recently insisted there is enough evidence to show they offer at least some protection against catching and spreading Covid, amid fears that a culture war could break out over the coming days.
Throughout the pandemic there has been fierce scientific debate about how well the guards work at reducing transmission, despite nearly every country in the world mandating or encouraging their use.
Wearing a mask will become personal choice instead of a legal requirement when England finally comes out of lockdown later this month, in a move that has sparked a fresh row about their effectiveness.
Experts told MailOnline they were confident there is ‘some’ benefit to wearing masks to prevent Covid from spreading — but they admitted to what degree remains unknown because there is a lack of quality evidence.
Cambridge University’s Dr Raghib Ali, a clinical epidemiologist, added the vaccines are doing such a good job at reducing transmission that there is now little need for masks to be worn everywhere.
But he said they could still be beneficial in hospitals, care homes and in crowded and poorly ventilated areas like the Tube, adding that a high-grade FFP3 mask would be the best option over a surgical or cloth mask.
Lab tests and observational studies have shown masks can block infected people from exhaling up to 80 per cent of the virus into the air and also protect wearers from inhaling up to 50 per cent of the particles.
But real-world studies, which involve more scientific rigour, have produced mixed results, with some showing a huge impact on infection rates and others showing virtually none.
Meanwhile, Britain’s surge in Covid cases continued at full steam yesterday, as positive tests rose to 51,870.
Department of Health bosses posted yet another six-month high on Thursday, with infections at their highest level since January 15, when 55,761 were recorded. The highest daily figure on record was 68,053 on January 8.
And the number of people who died with the virus also increased by 48.5 per cent in a week today to 49, up from 33 last Wednesday.
In light of the rapidly growing infection levels, experts today warned members of the public to continue wearing face masks indoors and open windows when restrictions are eased on ‘Freedom Day’ on Monday.
Dr Yvonne Doyle, medical director of Public Health England, said: ‘Cases are rising rapidly. We knew as we opened up cases would increase, but thankfully due to the vaccine, deaths and hospital admissions are not rising as fast as cases.
‘If you have not had the vaccine, book your first and second dose as soon as you can.
‘Restrictions are currently still in place, it is important to follow them, and when they lift on Monday there are still steps we can all take to protect ourselves and loved ones such as wearing a mask in enclosed spaces, opening a window if you’re meeting in close contact indoors, and getting tested and staying at home if you have symptoms.
‘The pandemic is not over, and we must all remain vigilant.’
Spain’s Balearic Islands will be moved to the amber list on Monday, while Bulgaria, Hong Kong, Croatia and Taiwan have been upgraded to green-list travel status
Meanwhile, British holidaymakers in Ibiza are dashing back to the UK before Monday’s 4am quarantine deadline after ministers announced plans to strike Spain’s Balearic Islands off the Government’s green list of foreign travel destinations – despite having lower Covid rates than Britain.
Passengers could be seen queueing at a clinic in San Antonio to get PCR tests and racing to Ibiza Airport today, after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced Ibiza, Majorca and Menorca will be demoted to the amber list.
Flight prices from the islands have soared by as much as nine times, with budget airline Ryanair’s morning and evening trips from Palma de Mallorca to Manchester Airport rocketing from just £12 at the start of Wednesday to nearly £110, an hour before Mr Shapps’ announcement.
Saturday’s mid-afternoon British Airway flight from Ibiza to London Heathrow was priced at around £115. Within two hours, tickets for the same journey had increased to £220 – a 92 per cent increase.
On the last easyJet flight from Menorca to Gatwick before the deadline, the last three seats on the passenger carrier cost £118 – around two-thirds more than the preannouncement fare, the Independent reports.
Double-vaccinated people will still be able to return from the Balearics quarantine free, even though they are on the amber list, when travel rules change on Monday.
But the move will be a blow to younger holidaymakers who are not yet fully jabbed and will now have to quarantine on their return to the UK or cancel their booking altogether.
Air industry bosses lined up to blast the Government’s ‘bitterly disappointing’ move, while MPs warned that the ‘on and off again’ decision-making was ‘creating huge uncertainty in the sector’ and could lead to a jobs bloodbath in the autumn.
Furious Twitter users accused the Government of ‘taking the pi**’ and complained there is ‘absolutely no point going abroad’ until next year. One wrote: ‘We’re staying in the UK this year. We decided to not even try to go abroad, too much hassle, quarantines etc… and way too expensive’.