No 'legal compulsion' to wear face masks when COVID restrictions are lifted

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There will be no “legal compulsion” to wear face masks once England’s coronavirus restrictions are lifted, the environment secretary has told Sky News, as he said he will ditch his face covering when the rule is scrapped.

George Eustice said the government wants “all of the legal requirements to do things to be taken away completely” at step four of its roadmap for lifting COVID-19 measures, which is currently scheduled for 19 July.

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“Whether there will still be some people who might choose to wear masks or whether it may be advisory in some settings, that’s a separate matter,” he said.

“But the objective of that final stage is to remove the legal requirement to do these things.”

Asked if he would continue to wear a face covering beyond that point, the minister replied: “I wouldn’t, no. I have to be honest, once I’m told it’s safe not to, I want to get back to normal.

“I think a lot of people will want to shed those masks.

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“But while it’s contributing to controlling the pandemic, yes I will wear my mask like everybody else and do my bit.”

The wearing of face coverings in a range of settings, including in shops and on public transport, has been required since last summer.

Mr Eustice’s comments come after an expert told Sky News that social distancing and mask-wearing would still be needed in the future in areas of high infection.

Dr David Nabarro, a special envoy on COVID-19 for the World Health Organisation, said there was a need to “maintain defences against the virus to stop it welling up more and more, and that’s going to be the life to come, at least until there’s enough vaccine, and enough certainty, to be sure that vaccination will protect us”.

He added that because of new variants “as well as using vaccine as part of our defence, we’re going to have to continue by keeping a bit of a distance from each other and then I’m going to suggest that the physical distancing part of one metre plus and mask wearing will be necessary, particularly in places where there’s a lot of virus”.