Mask-wearing becomes a new battleground in England

Thrill seekers wear face masks as they ride The Smiler roller coaster at Alton Towers on the first day of the opening day following the easing of lockdown restrictions on April 12, 2021 in Alton, UK.

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LONDON – Since the coronavirus pandemic began, many countries have passed laws forcing people to wear face masks and covers in public places to stop the virus from spreading.

While face masks are not uncommon for some and have been accepted without objection, a vocal minority have railed against what they see as a restriction on their personal freedom. Face coverings proponents cite studies showing they prevent the spread of Covid-19, potentially saving lives.

Now that countries are easing restrictions, wearing face masks – or not – seems to remain an equally controversial issue.

The mask wearing debate heated up in England on Monday after the UK government announced that it would become a “personal responsibility” issue rather than a legal requirement following the planned lifting of Covid restrictions on July 19th would be.

The move immediately provoked a strong reaction from people on both sides of the divide, who soon went to Twitter to share their views.

On Tuesday morning, the hashtag #WearAMask was trending on the social media site, with MPs, medical professionals and the public debating whether they will (or should better) wear face-covering after the restrictions end.

Currently, face masks or covers must be worn in all indoor public spaces in England such as shops, supermarkets, theaters, museums and on public transport unless a person is exempt from doing so on medical grounds. The UK police have the power to fine anyone who does not wear a mask of £ 200 (US $ 277).

For and against

The UK government’s plans to lift masks rules have received widespread praise from Conservative Party lawmakers, especially those who have been vehemently opposed to stringent Covid restrictions given the impact on the economy and livelihoods.

New Forest West Conservative MP Desmond Swayne was among those who expressed support for the plan, telling CNBC Tuesday that he believes wearing masks to prevent the spread of disease ” marginal at best ”and that it was more of a means of“ public reassurance and control ”.

“You [masks] have significant social and psychological disadvantages, “he added.” It has always struck me as pretty incredible, in a free society, that we should be instructed on what to wear and punished for not doing so. Your status as of July 19th is correct: a matter of personal choice. “

Swayne and others, who see the imposition of masks as an affront to civil liberties, represent one side of the debate, and protests have been held in the UK against Covid measures, including the wearing of masks.

A protester holds a placard expressing her opinion during an anti-lockdown protest.

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But there are many on the other side of the debate who argue that it is a civic duty to wear a mask and to stop the spread of a virus that has now killed over 3.9 million people worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Following the UK government’s announcement on Monday, the Unite union, opposition Labor Party and some health experts were quick to express concern or criticism of the plan, saying it was risky at a time when the Delta variant is causing a spike in Covid cases . both in England and beyond.

Unite, which represents many public transport workers, said removing face covers as a requirement was “an act of gross negligence by the government” and Labor leader Keir Starmer described the move as “inconsiderate”. Some companies have already said that face masks will still be required for customers, such as airlines Ryanair and easyJet.

The US attitude

England, of course, is not alone in the public debate over face masks, the US sees a similar divide as well. Unlike in England, however, the rules in the USA vary from state to state. Masks are required in some states, and others follow the latest guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In May, the CDC stated that in most environments, whether outdoors or indoors, the CDC stated that although it noted some nuances of the guidelines (e.g., healthcare), they no longer need to wear face masks or stay away from others. . or in a store that needs it).

The CDC also noted that those fully vaccinated must continue to wear masks on airplanes, buses, trains, and other public transport.

However, in June the World Health Organization urged fully vaccinated people to continue wearing masks as the highly contagious Delta variant quickly spread around the world.

“People can’t feel safe just because they got the two doses. They still need to protect themselves,” said Dr. Mariangela Simao, WHO deputy director general for access to medicines and health products, added that a “vaccine alone does not” stop community transmission. “

What will Boris Johnson do?

Health professionals, especially those advising the UK government, arguably find themselves in a difficult position when it comes to wearing masks.

While the UK vaccination campaign has helped break the link between infections and hospital stays and deaths, cases are increasing in younger and not-yet-fully vaccinated age groups, leading the government to increase the final stage of vaccination for all UK adults accelerate. Over 27,000 new Covid cases were registered on Monday, bringing the total number of confirmed infections in the UK to over 4.9 million.

Asked at the government press conference if they would continue to wear masks themselves, medical experts advising Prime Minister Boris Johnson said under certain circumstances.

“The first is in any situation that is indoors and overcrowded, or indoors with close proximity to other people. And that’s because masks protect other people, ”said England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty.

He added, “The second situation is if I was asked to do so by a competent authority … and the third reason is if someone else felt uncomfortable with me not wearing a mask – as a courtesy.”

What about Johnson? When asked if he would continue to wear a mask once the restrictions were lifted (a final decision will be made on July 12), he said “it will depend on the circumstances.”

“Obviously, there is a huge difference between being on a crowded subway train and sitting in a practically empty car on the main line late at night,” said Johnson.

“We want people to take their personal responsibility seriously, but don’t forget the value of face coverings to protect themselves and others.

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