Face Masks

University Union Calls for Full Vaccination of All Students by September and Continuation of Mask-Wearing on Campus

The University and College Union (UCU) remains unconvinced that it is safe for university life to return to normal and has urged the Education Secretary to see that all students are fully vaccinated by September. It is also demanding that universities continue to impose mask mandates on campus. The Guardian has the story.

The UCU has written to… Gavin Williamson, warning that the Covid chaos seen in universities last year will be repeated unless strict measures are in place to protect staff and students.

The union wants all students to be double vaccinated before the start of term in September, with jabs made available to younger students in further education once approved by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

It is also calling on universities to “provide and mandate” the wearing of high-quality face masks by both staff and students, access to free PCR tests, and funding from the Government to support education recovery.

It wants robust health and safety risk assessments ahead of the new academic year, modifications to buildings to improve ventilation, measures to allow for effective social distancing, and improved mental health provision for students. …

The UCU described the dropping of social distancing and mask-wearing in England, and the reopening of nightclubs, as “reckless” and a “recipe for disaster”.

The letter to the Education Secretary said: “Last year, ministers green-lit the mass movement of students across the country and failed to recognise the effect this would have on infections, on those working and studying in the sector, and on the wider communities of which they become a part.

“As the Westminster Government removes all restrictions and the associated public health guidance, there is a real danger that unless we learn key lessons from last year, our education settings become incubators for Covid all over again.” Letters have also been sent to the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland executive.

Covid jabs have been approved for young people up to three months before their 18th birthday, but the UCU says students should be treated as a priority group to ensure they are fully vaccinated before September, in time for the start of term. …

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We strongly encourage all students to take up the offer of both vaccine doses as soon as they become eligible. We also recommend that face coverings are worn in enclosed and crowded spaces where people may come into contact with people they do not normally meet, or in the event of a local outbreak.”

Some universities will not need any persuading. Students at the University of Oxford, for example, have been told that rules on mask-wearing and social distancing will remain unchanged, despite the passing of “Freedom Day”.

The Guardian report is worth reading in full.

Brits Told To “Keep Life Moving” by Wearing Face Masks in New Government Scare Campaign

It’s as if ‘Freedom Day’ never happened. A new Government ad campaign tells Brits to carry on wearing face masks and to use the NHS Covid app so as to “keep life moving”. One poster warns that “Covid is still with us” and that you can still pass on the virus “even if you’ve been vaccinated”: “[So] let’s wear face coverings in crowded places to protect others.” The Evening Standard has the story.

An official information campaign, which will hit airwaves, newspapers and other media from Thursday, will see the Government replace its “hands, face, space, fresh air” slogan with its new catchphrase: “Keep life moving.”

A video fronted by TV doctor Dr Amir Khan will also recommend people continue to follow social distancing guidance, as the film shows a young man stepping off a pavement to allow an older neighbour to pass.

The advice comes despite Monday being trumpeted as England’s ‘Freedom Day’, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson removing almost all legal restrictions, including social distancing guidelines.

Pressure has also been placed on young people to get a vaccine, as Health Secretary Sajid Javid reiterates the Prime Minister’s plan to make full vaccination a “condition of entry to nightclubs” by the autumn.

The campaign will warn, however, that being doubled jabbed does not entirely protect you from being infected with coronavirus, or from being told to self-isolate.

The campaign instructs people to stick with the behaviour that has become “second nature” over the past year of lockdowns. This advice appears to have been pulled directly out of Susan Michie’s rule book. In June, the top Government adviser and long-time member of the Communist Party of Britain said measures adopted during the pandemic should become part of our “normal” routine behaviour, just as wearing car seat belts has become commonplace. The Evening Standard continues:

The recommendations include using quick-result lateral flow tests twice a week and booking a PCR test if there is any sign of even mild coronavirus symptoms.

People will be encouraged to keep washing their hands regularly, to check in to pubs, bars and restaurants using the Covid app, and to wear face masks in crowded places where “distancing is not possible”, such as public transport or small shops.

It will also place renewed emphasis on the importance of ventilation in fighting infection during social gatherings, while vaccine take-up will also be pushed.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: “Mask-wearers, in my experience, need no encouragement,” says Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens. “So what’s the aim?”

Cloth Face Masks Might Make You Feel Better but They Won’t Protect You From Covid

A standard face mask acts as nothing more than a “comfort blanket” and offers little protection against Covid, a scientific adviser to SAGE has said ahead of the partial easing of the mask mandate on Monday. The Telegraph has the story.

Dr Colin Axon, who has advised the Government on minimising the risk of cross-infection in supermarkets, accused medics of presenting a “cartoonish” view of how tiny particles travel through the air.

He warned some cloth masks have gaps which are invisible to the naked eye, but are 500,000 times the size of viral Covid particles.

“The small sizes are not easily understood but an imperfect analogy would be to imagine marbles fired at builders’ scaffolding, some might hit a pole and rebound, but obviously most will fly through,” he told the Telegraph.

The mask debate has been reignited this week after the Government published “Freedom Day” guidance recommending their continued use. It led to Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, enforcing their continued use on the London Underground.

Dr Axon said the public need to be offered a wider view of the science behind face masks, rather than the “partial view” of information being pushed by medics over their effectiveness.

“Medics have this cartoonised view of how particles move through the air – it’s not their fault, it’s not their domain – they’ve got a cartoonish view of how the world is,” he said.

“Once a particle is not on a biological surface it is no longer a biomedical issue, it is simply about physics. The public has only a partial view of the story if information only comes from one type of source. Medics have some of the answers but not a whole view.” …

An Oxford study last summer concluded that masks were “effective” in reducing the spread of the virus.

However, other studies have cast doubt on their effectiveness. A subsequent Danish study involving 6,000 people concluded that there was no statistical difference in infection spread in non-wearers, while data on U.S. states with non-mandated usage failed to show a correlated uptick in cases.

“The public were demanding something must be done, they got masks, it is just a comfort blanket,” Dr Axon noted. “But now it is entrenched, and we are entrenching bad behaviour.”

Worth reading in full.

Sainsbury’s and Tesco to Continue Telling Customers to Wear Face Masks After ‘Freedom Day’

A growing number of retail giants are going to continue asking customers to wear face masks in their stores after the much-anticipated ‘easing’ of restrictions on ‘Freedom Day’. The Government says that it “expects and recommends” people to continue mask-wearing after July 19th – a plea that has so far been backed by Waterstones, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and more. What’s most disappointing is that this appears to be what customers want. BBC News has the story.

Sainsbury’s said signs and tannoy announcements would remind shoppers to cover their faces.

Tesco said it wanted to “be on the safe side”.

The chain will also continue to limit the number of shoppers in store at any one time.

The Government has said it “expects and recommends” shoppers in England to wear face masks from Monday. But the legal requirement to cover your face in enclosed spaces will end. Different rules apply in the devolved nations.

The new guidance leaves firms to decide their own safety policies after July 19th when Covid rules are lifted. …

Primark has said it won’t have signage requesting customers to wear masks but hopes they will continue to do so. John Timpson, Founder of the keycutting and shoe repair chain, said the decision would be left to customers.

Sainsbury’s said its strategy reflected feedback from customers and colleagues, with the majority of those surveyed in favour of keeping the mask policy in place.

The chain said some Covid measures, such as screens between self-service checkouts and checkout queues, would be gradually removed. However screens between checkout staff and customers will remain in place. …

Dr Roger Barker, Policy Director at the Institute of Directors, said: “Like everybody else, businesses across the country having been awaiting ‘Freedom Day’ with bated breath.

“But instead we have had a series of mixed messages and patchwork requirements from Government that have dampened that enthusiasm.”

Worth reading in full.

Masks Will Stay on London Transport for “As Long as the Virus Is Still With Us”, Says Sadiq Khan

London commuters hoping to return to normality after July 19th are in for disappointment, as Sadiq Khan says face masks will remain compulsory on transport networks within the city beyond “Freedom Day” and for “as long as the virus is still with us”. London is the first city to announce that it will continue mandating mask-wearing after this date. Greater Manchester looks set to be the next, with Mayor Andy Burnham refusing to “rule out” keeping restrictions. BBC News has the story.

Sadiq Khan said he was not prepared to put Tube, tram and other transport users at risk by relaxing the rules on face coverings.

Face masks have been mandatory on public transport for the past year to reduce the spread of the virus.

But those rules will be replaced with Government guidance advising passengers to wear masks only on busy services.

England is removing most of its Covid restrictions next Monday, and while Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he expects masks to be worn in crowded places, such as on a busy Tube train, their use will no longer be compulsory.

But Mr Khan has gone further and made it a condition of carriage for the Tube, bus, tram, DLR, Overground and TfL Rail.

This means that, despite the easing of restrictions on July 19th, it will be listed as a condition in a legal agreement between TfL and its customers.

Mr Khan said: “We know from the Government’s own advisors and from the World Health Organisation, that wearing a face covering indoors does reduce transmissions.

“It leads to greater public safety and greater public confidence as well.

“As long as the virus is still with us, and as long as we’re still concerned about the virus being transmitted, we will make it compulsory.”

He said he was “confident you will see from Monday high levels of the rules being followed just like there have been since last June”.

TfL’s 400 enforcement officers will deny those without a face covering from using London transport, under the plan.

TfL staff and bus drivers will continue to remind passengers that masks are a requirement, Mr Khan said.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told Times Radio this morning that Sadiq Khan’s decision “makes sense”. He is quoted in the Guardian:

We expect carriers to provide rules or what we call conditions of carriage appropriate to their own circumstances. And obviously, London Underground is a particularly crowded network. And, of course, we said people should wear masks in crowded areas. So just in the same way as the airlines have made it a stipulation – an ongoing stipulation – we expected – indeed invited TfL – to do the same thing. So no surprises there. And if you think about it, it makes sense.

Also worth reading in full.

Covid Rules at University of Oxford to Remain Unchanged After July 19th

The number of settings in which life will continue as it is now after ‘Freedom Day’ keeps growing. Most recently, students at the University of Oxford have been told that rules on mask-wearing and social distancing will remain unchanged after July 19th due to high infection rates in the county.

The number of positive Covid tests in Oxford has been on the up in recent weeks, but deaths remain low, with zero deaths having been recorded in seven of the last 10 weeks and no more than three deaths recorded in the other three weeks.

Graph from Oxfordshire County Council.

University leaders haven’t let this stop them imposing tough lockdown restrictions. In an email sent to staff and students on Tuesday (and kindly forwarded to us at Lockdown Sceptics by a reader), Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, the Principal of Somerville College, said measures would remain “until further notice”.

Please note that, whilst the Government has confirmed plans to lift Covid restrictions on Monday, July 19th, the University’s policies on social distancing, face coverings and working from home will not change due to the high rates of Covid in Oxford. We will therefore continue with our Covid restrictions in College until further notice and, for the moment, we will not be allowing visitors.

On its website, the University warns that “Covid remains a real threat to many people in our community and… the pandemic is not yet over”. Students are instructed to continue following these measures:

  • Continue social distancing – assume two metres within University buildings unless told otherwise.
  • Keep washing your hands.
  • Keep wearing a face covering (unless you’re exempt).
  • Get tested – twice a week, with Lateral Flow Devices (LFDs); and take a PCR test if you have symptoms or have received a positive LFD test result or have been advised that you are a close contact of someone who has a PCR-confirmed case of Covid.
  • Continue to follow the self-isolation guidance.

If we can’t banish these restrictions from one of the country’s – the world’s – most learned institutions, what chance have we got of scrapping them from pubs and restaurants?

We Must “Proceed With Caution”, Says Boris Johnson As He Announces Lockdown Easing on July 19th

There’s was a particularly downbeat tone to the Prime Minister’s speech on Monday evening in which he said that the country can proceed with easing lockdown restrictions on July 19th, but “with caution”.

The mood was set by Health Secretary Sajid Javid earlier in the day, who confirmed Government plans to urge large indoor venues to implement vaccine passports. In his speech, Boris Johnson said he expects and recommends people to continue wearing face masks after “Freedom Day” and cautioned that “this pandemic is not over”. The Guardian has the story.

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, the Prime Minister urged “extreme caution” on Monday, as he gave the final confirmation that Step Four of the ‘roadmap’ would go ahead next week.

It will mean nightclubs can reopen, social distancing rules will be abandoned and mask-wearing will no longer be legally enforceable…

But in a marked shift of emphasis from a week ago, when he said mask-wearing would become a matter of “personal choice”, Johnson said he would “expect and recommend” that face coverings be worn in crowded indoor spaces, and people were advised to limit their contact with those outside their households.

He warned businesses such as nightclubs and theatres that it was their “social responsibility” to check their customers’ Covid status; and said he expected the return to offices to take place only “gradually”.

Government documents said that ministers will “consider mandating” the NHS Covid Pass if “sufficient measures are not taken to limit infection”. 

The Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, had earlier told MPs: “This is not the end of the road. It’s the start of a new phase of continued caution, where we live with the virus and manage the risks.”

Under questioning from the Health Select Committee Chair, Jeremy Hunt, Javid declined to rule out imposing new restrictions in the future, if ministers judged it to be necessary.

Government advisers expect about 1,000 to 2,000 daily hospital admissions over the summer as restrictions are lifted, and 100-200 deaths a day under what was described a “central scenario”. This would depend on how quickly the public’s behaviour returns to normal.

Minutes published by the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE) also highlighted the threat of a new vaccine-resistant variant emerging in the U.K., which they warned would pose a risk to the whole world.

Johnson said there would be an increase in cases whenever restrictions were lifted, and it was better to do so now, with the “natural firebreak” of the school summer holidays, than during the autumn or winter when the NHS is already under intense pressure.

“But it is absolutely vital that we proceed now with caution, and I cannot say this powerfully or emphatically enough – this pandemic is not over,” he said. “This disease, coronavirus, continues to carry risks for you and your family. We cannot simply revert instantly on July 19th to life as it was before Covid.” …

Speaking alongside the Prime Minister, Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, said that while a rise in infections was both expected and inevitable whenever restrictions were moved, the scale of this, and the subsequent impact on hospitalisations and deaths, depended on the public.

He said: “If behaviour returns immediately to pre-pandemic levels, that would be a very, very big rise. If we go slowly and cautiously, that will be less of a rise.” …

[An official] document said the Government would, in September, review the country’s preparedness for the coming months “which will consider whether to continue or strengthen public and business guidance as we approach the winter”.

Worth reading in full.

Mask Mandate Should Stay After July 19th, Says Labour’s Kate Green

Labour believes mandatory mask-wearing should stay in place after July 19th so as to keep the rules clear and to provide people with a sense of reassurance about their safety.

Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green told Sky News yesterday that allowing people to choose whether to wear a mask would be a “recipe for confusion” and “confrontations”, and that it would be much “clearer” to keep rules in place for public places after “Freedom Day”.

She added that, when on public transport, wearing masks and seeing others wearing masks is “a source of great reassurance and people want to do it”.

Despite appealing for clarity, Kate has created more confusion by suggesting that Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has decided to keep mask mandates in the city’s metro – a claim Burnham’s team has denied. Manchester authorities are, however, “strongly urging people to wear face coverings”, as is the Government more generally.

And it doesn’t stop there. Kate also said Labour believes social distancing measures should continue “as far as is possible” and that Test and Trace should be more – not less – sensitive. Do they ever want this to end?

People Still “Expected” to Wear Face Masks After July 19th, Says Vaccines Minister

The Government has added further confusion to mask-wearing requirements after July 19th today. While there will be no “legal compulsion” to wear a mask in England when the final stage of the lockdown roadmap is reached, people will continue to be “expected to wear masks in indoor enclosed spaces”, according to Vaccines Minister Nadim Zahawi. He is quoted in the Guardian.

I think it’s important that we remain cautious and careful and the guidelines that we’ll set out tomorrow will demonstrate that, including guidelines that people are expected to wear masks in indoor enclosed spaces. 

And of course to remain vigilant with your hands and face and just remember that we all act responsibly as we did with the vaccination program. …

We can come together and deal with this pandemic in a way that is responsible, by thinking about our own actions and how they impact other people, including people who may be immunocompromised.

Whether or not people are guided by this “expectation”, masks will still need to be worn in a number of settings as businesses have been told they will be allowed to set their own rules.

Stop Press: The Vaccines Minister has also denied reports this morning that the gap between Covid vaccine doses will be cut down to four weeks. He told Sky News: “The eight-week interval offers that additional fortification in terms of protection with the two doses much better than having the interval shortened any further.”

Face Masks to Stay in Wales After Lockdown Easing

Wales will not be joining England in ending mask-wearing rules when it reaches Step Four of its roadmap out of lockdown, the Welsh Executive has announced. Restrictions will continue on public transport – and possibly even in retail – “to help keep us all safe”. BBC News has the story.

[The Welsh Executive] said if Wales moved from “Alert Level One” to “Zero”, coverings would still be mandatory on public transport and in health and social care settings.

It added a decision was yet to be made on mandating face masks in shops. …

Education Minister Jeremy Miles wrote to all schools in Wales on Friday to say wearing face coverings in the classroom will no longer be recommended from September.

Wales is currently at Alert Level One, which means face coverings are mandatory in all indoor public places.

The Welsh Government’s next 21-day review of the coronavirus regulations is due to take place on Wednesday.

It has been under pressure to announce a date for ending Covid restrictions after England announced a target of July 19th, and Scotland said it planned to lift remaining legal restrictions on August 9th.

The Welsh Government said Wednesday’s review would “set out whether restrictions can be relaxed in some indoor places, including people’s homes”.

Meanwhile, ministers are due to publish an updated Coronavirus Control Plan, setting out what will happen once Wales moves into Alert Level Zero.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “We will need everyone’s help to keep coronavirus under control as we continue to respond to the pandemic – this virus has quite certainly not gone away.

“We know many people are still worried and anxious about going out. We will maintain the requirement to wear face coverings in certain places – on public transport and health and social care settings, and others where necessary – to help keep us all safe.”

Worth reading in full.