Face masks in enclosed spaces will be ‘expected’ beyond July 19, says UK minister

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London, Jul 11 (PTI) The government will issue guidance stating that people will still be 'expected to wear masks in indoor, enclosed places' even after all legal lockdown restrictions are lifted from July 19, UK Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said on Sunday.

The senior Cabinet minister also expressed confidence that the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be able to confirm the July 19 timeline for the last stage of his lockdown easing roadmap on Monday despite a surge in infections, as hospitalisations remain low amid the mass vaccination drive.

'I think it is important that we remain cautious and careful and the guidelines that we will set out tomorrow will demonstrate that, including guidelines that people are expected to wear masks in indoor, enclosed spaces,' Zahawi told ‘Sky News’.

'We're moving from 'you must' to 'you are expected' to wear a mask in indoor spaces,' he told the BBC.

It comes after UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid told ‘The Sunday Telegraph’ that anyone who would not wear a mask in an enclosed space was 'just being irresponsible'.

'Given Sajid Javid now considers it irresponsible to not wear masks then it would be equally irresponsible for his government to carry on with the plan to lift mask requirements while infections are heading to 100,000 a day,' said Opposition Labour's shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth.

A final decision on England's path out of restrictions is expected to be taken on Monday and Boris Johnson is suffering a backlash over his plans to ditch all the rules on wearing face masks. Doctors, regional mayors, trade unions and health charities are among those who have expressed fears over the relaxed measures amid continuing rise in infections. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has also warned that lifting all restrictions in one go would be 'reckless'.

Wales has already deviated from the UK government's position on mask wearing, announcing that face masks will remain mandatory there in some public places until COVID-19 is no longer a public health threat. Masks must still be worn in taxis, on trains and buses, as well as health and social care settings when coronavirus restrictions are eased, the Welsh government said under its devolved powers.

On Saturday, the UK recorded 32,367 new coronavirus cases and 34 deaths. It is the fourth day in a row case numbers have been above 30,000, with the Delta variant – first identified in India – continuing to be the dominant strain in the country followed by the local Alpha variant. PTI AK SCY

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