19th July marks Freedom Day for England, after having restrictions and social distancing imposed by the Government since 21st March 2020. It is the final step of the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown, which was originally delayed from 21st June due to the new Delta variant.
While most restrictions have been lifted, including the Track and Trace requirement and the rules around social distancing, the use of face coverings (unless exempt) has been downgraded from being a legal requirement to being an advisory. Since evidence had been released saying “masks are ineffective” but people were saying otherwise, up until now, the overall result has led to some people flaunting the rules even if not exempt. As exemptions can’t be challenged, those flaunting the rules weren’t caught by the police.
Although some people argue that face coverings should continue to be mandatory because the case numbers are still going up, other people are happy about the rule change. For most places, it has now become the discretion of the public as to whether they would like to wear a face covering or not. However, in some establishments – such as hospitals and GP surgeries – it will remain a legal requirement. The Government are also advising people to wear face coverings in crowded places. Some places, such as nightclubs and gig venues, will require proof of vaccination – available through the free NHS app – instead so people can enter without needing a face covering.
Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has asked Transport for London to make it a Condition of Carriage for the public to wear a face covering (unless exempt) on the London Underground. Transport for Greater Manchester say face coverings are also a Condition of Carriage on the Metrolink, and Nexus have also followed suit for the Tyne and Wear Metro. Other rail companies are asking people to follow the Government guidance. Bus companies are also asking passengers to follow the Government’s advice.
Although the rate of infection is still rising, most fully vaccinated people aren’t being admitted to hospital as they already have the antibodies to fight Covid. The virus will never disappear, but we will learn to live with it, like we live with the flu. The requirement to self-isolate is due to end on 16th August for those who are fully vaccinated and have been in close contact with anyone who has Covid. There might also become a point in time, when most of the population have been fully vaccinated, when face coverings can be scrapped completely. However, this is not yet known.