Roadmap

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.

Two-Thirds of U.K. Adults Fully Vaccinated Against Covid

Two-thirds of all U.K. adults have received two doses of a Covid vaccine, almost a week ahead of schedule, Health Secretary Sajid Javid has announced. Yet the Government has U-turned on ending all lockdown restrictions on ‘Freedom Day’ and appears instead to be gearing up for more restrictions.

Sky News has the story.

Sajid Javid said on Twitter: “Two-thirds of adults across the U.K. have now had two jabs.

“We have beaten our target by almost a week – this is a huge achievement. Thank you to everyone who has come forward.

“The vaccine is our wall of defence against the virus.”

The figure is a key milestone ahead of a drastic [!] easing of restrictions on Monday.

The Government delayed lifting most rules until July 19th so two-thirds of adults could be double-jabbed, and every adult could be offered a first vaccine.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson thanked people for “coming forward” and “helping others get jabbed” on Twitter. …

Latest data from the Department of Health shows a total of 81,192,857 doses have been administered in the U.K., with 46,037,090 people receiving a first dose (87.4%) and 35,155,767 people receiving both doses (66.7%).

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?

Therapists Warn Of Rise in Anxiety over the Easing of Restrictions

Reports suggest that a high proportion of Brits not only disagree with the easing of lockdown restrictions on July 19th (or ever, in some cases) but are also seeking help from mental health organisations due to their anxiety over ‘Freedom Day’. MailOnline has the story.

One in five people are suffering from what experts have dubbed “Covid Anxiety Syndrome”, with people reporting fears of losing control as the restriction rules put in place to protect people from contracting the virus are removed.

Meanwhile, mental health charities have warned of a surge in treatment requests while an opinion poll has revealed half of people want restrictions to remain in place.

Research by the London South Bank University (LSBU), shows that 40% of respondents to a survey avoid touching things in public, and nearly 25% are avoiding being in public places. 

Professor Marcantonio Spada from LSBU’s Centre for Addictive Behaviours and Professor Ana Nikčević from Kingston University first identified the concept of Covid Anxiety Syndrome in April 2020.

Their research found that people were developing a particular set of behaviours as a result of their fear of the virus.

Covid Anxiety Syndrome consists of forms of coping such as a constant attention to threat, worry, avoidance and excessive checking, that can keep people locked into a state of continuous anxiety and fear of contracting the virus.

Professor Marcantonio Spada, Professor of Addictive Behaviours and Mental Health at LSBU, said: “Our data indicates that after one month of re-opening of society many people are still struggling with aspects of Covid Anxiety Syndrome, a similar figure to what we previously observed during full lockdown.

“This means that there are still many people who find it difficult to disengage from the Covid threats which may make return to normal daily living harder as restrictions ease.

“Our new findings show how vital it is that people affected by Covid Anxiety Syndrome receive support. Mapping out how we will do this will become a priority for mental health service providers.”

Meanwhile, an opinion poll carried out for the Observer has revealed 50% of people believe Freedom Day should be pushed back.

The poll, of more than 2,000 people, also revealed around 65% will continue to wear masks in shops and supermarkets while 54% will wear them on public transport. …

Research by mental health charities backs up the findings, with Mind reporting that 55% of adults and young people are concerned about seeing and being near others when restrictions ease next week. 

Nearly half, 46%, of those who have been vaccinated, say they are still concerned they will catch the virus. 

It comes after Mind reported that one in four adults experienced mental distress for the first time during the pandemic, with NHS figures showing an increase in people’s contact with mental health services since March 2020.   

Worth reading in full.

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.

Boris Johnson to “Tone Down Freedom Day Rhetoric”

We have almost reached July 19th, yet we appear to be moving further away from what we once considered to be ‘normal’ (just look at the reappearance of plans for vaccine passports). It’s no wonder that the Prime Minister is toning down the “Freedom Day” rhetoric. The Guardian has more.

The final decision about July 19th will be taken on Monday morning, based on modelling from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) about Covid cases and pressures on the NHS.

The Prime Minister still believes it is “now or never”, with a later reopening potentially posing even higher risks as cases could peak as children return to school and winter looms.

Two Whitehall sources told the Guardian that ministers had been spooked by internal polling. One said the data showed just 10% of the public support the policy of scrapping all restrictions at once, while another said substantially more people believed the Government was moving too quickly than at the last reopening step on May 17th. These accounts were denied by Number 10.

A cabinet minister said the Health Secretary Sajid Javid’s admission that there could be 100,000 new Covid cases a day over the summer had raised eyebrows among some colleagues. Medical advisers were fighting a rearguard action to slow down the reopening plan, they added.

Government sources conceded that while Johnson had warned the public at last Monday’s press conference not to be “demob happy”, his cautious message had “got slightly lost” as he announced the scrapping of all restrictions, including mandatory mask-wearing and social distancing. …

Several sources said the most likely outcome of Monday’s deliberations was for the Government to press ahead with July 19th but tone down the “freedom day” rhetoric. One said it “would be political suicide” to U-turn.

Worth reading in full.