‘Freedom Day’: Two-thirds say they will wear face masks in shops and on public transport as coronavirus restrictions are lifted
Nearly two-thirds of adults will continue to wear face coverings in shops and on public transport following the lifting of the coronavirus legal restrictions today, a survey has found.
The Opinions and Lifestyle Survey, for the Office of National Statistics, found nine out of 10 adults in Great Britain continued to feel that wearing face coverings (90 per cent) and social distancing from others not in their household, childcare or support bubble are important (88 per cent) in slowing the spread of the virus.
Cambridgeshire had its highest number of positive Covid-19 tests for six months last Wednesday (July 14) - with 394 - only for that number to be beaten the following day (July 15), when 432 were recorded.
It means the county - like much of the country - heads into the so-called ‘Freedom Day’ with a spiralling infection rate, driven by the highly transmissible Delta variant.
The Cambridge Independent has urged readers to continue to wear masks in public transport and in enclosed public spaces like shops, even though there is no legal requirement to do so from today. That call has been echoed by the city council leader, Cllr Lewis Herbert, Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner and Cambridge scientists including Prof Ravi Gupta.
The ONS survey found more than half (57 per cent) of adults in Great Britain, surveyed between July 7 and 11, were worried about the plan to remove legal restrictions. This includes one-fifth (20 per cent) who are very worried.
Some 64 per cent said they would wear face coverings in shops, and the same plans to do so in shops, while 60 per cent intend to avoid crowded places.
The prevalence of mask wearing is likely to be lower among younger people, with 51 per cent of those aged 16 to 29 years saying they were planning to do so in shops or on public transport.
Among those aged 70 and over, 74 per cent are likely to wear masks in shops, while 69 per cent will do so on public transport, along with 70 per cent of those aged 50-69.
At Catherine Jones, the jewellery shop in Bridge Street, Cambridge, staff believe masks are vital protection.
Managing director Vanessa Burkitt told the Cambridge Independent: “Covid numbers are rising with the Delta variant. Just because the government says the regulation is lifted doesn't make that go away.
“All Catherine Jones' staff voted to continue wearing masks at work, themselves. They also voted to require customers and all other visitors to wear masks too.
“This is the only way that they will continue to be protected from potential Covid cases.
“We shall continue to take customers' temperatures for the same reason. Since we reopened on April 12, a number of customers have turned the thermometer reader red, showing that they have a fever. We have advised them to go home and not permitted them to come past the entrance of the shop.
“The duty of care to staff is not only to them individually; it extends to their family members, too, some of whom are shielding. As a business owner my duty of care is a requirement under health and safety legislation and not to do with lifting the current regulations.”
The ONS survey found almost half of adults (49 per cent) plan to maintain social distancing around others they do not live with, although this percentage was lower among those aged 16 to 29 years (31 per cent) and highest among those aged 50 to 69 years (59 per cent).
Three-quarters (75 per cent) of adults plan to sanitise their hands regularly.
Thirty per cent of working adults plan to work from home, and there is evidence from both this survey and Business Insights and Conditions Survey that hybrid working is likely to increase.
More than a quarter - 28 per cent - believe normal life is a year or more away, slightly higher than the 25 per cent who believed this a year ago, although down from the peak of 41 per cent who thought so between September 16 and 20, 2020.
The lifting of restrictions means that legally:
- Social distancing rules ended on Monday morning at one minute past midnight.
- Face masks are no longer mandatory in shops and on public transport
- Limits on gathering have gone
- Work from home guidance has ended.
Nightclubs, theatres and restaurants can fully reopen, while pubs are no longer restricted to table service only.
But epidemiologist Professor Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College London, whose modelling led to the first lockdown in March 2020, warned case numbers could reach 200,000 before the current wave of the pandemic finally peaked.
And he suggested that could result in 2,000 hospital admissions a day leading to “major disruption” and further backlogs in NHS services.
Cambridge ICU specialist and researcher Dr Charlotte Summers, who has helped lead the intensive care response to Covid-19 at Addenbrooke’s, urged caution.
“Today is not a day where we are suddenly free from the pandemic - people are still getting sick and dying here in the UK and across the globe. Today is a day where national mandates end and the responsibilities are being passed to us as individuals,” she said.
“Today, there are more than 4000 people in NHS hospitals with confirmed Covid-19, of which more than 550 of them are in ICU for invasive mechanical ventilation - these numbers are rising daily due to increased levels of viral transmission in the community.
“The link between infection and hospitalisation/death has been weakened by vaccines, but not broken. We all need to keep helping by
- regular hand hygiene
- face masks in indoor public spaces
- meeting outdoor where possible and ventilating indoors
- accepting vaccines when offered.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is spending the so-called “freedom day” self-isolating at his official country residence at Chequers after being “pinged” by NHS Test and Trace. It came after contact with Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who subsequently tested positive for the virus.
He and Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who also met Mr Javid on Friday, initially tried to get round the requirement to quarantine by saying they would join a daily workplace testing programme being trialled by the Cabinet Office.
But they were forced into a hasty U-turn amid widespread public anger at their “special treatment” while tens of thousands of people were being forced to miss work or school and stay home.
In a video message, he defended the government’s decision to lift all restrictions, amid Labour suggestions that it was “reckless”, but he did urge caution.
He said: “There is no doubt at all that the massive vaccination programme has very severely weakened the link between infection and hospitalisation, and between infection and serious illness and death. That is the vital thing.
“So please, please, please be cautious. Go forward into the next step with all the right prudence and respect for other people.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer responded: “We can already see that the infection rates are going through the roof, we know what’s going to happen with hundreds of thousands of people being asked to self isolate. The Prime Minister is essentially putting the whole nation into a car, pressing the accelerator and taking the seatbelt off.”
In the ONS survey, 29 per cent of adults in Great Britain overall considered they were at very high or high risk of catching the virus, while 32 per cent considered it to be a very low or low risk.
Asked what they were most looking forward to doing when restrictions end, 54 per cent of people said going on holiday abroad, while “hugging people I do not live with” was chosen by 48 per cent of adults.