From 19 July face masks will become optional in England, after having been a legal requirement in public spaces including shops, hospitals, places of worship, theatres, taxis and other forms of transport for many months.
Although face covering have been, as stated in government guidance, largely intended to protect others, not the wearer, against the spread of infection with Covid-19, from Monday people will be able to decide for themselves whether to wear masks or not, unless required otherwise by a business or body such as Transport for London, where they will remain compulsory.
Eight Guardian readers tell us why they will or won’t be planning to wear a mask on Monday.
‘I will continue wearing a mask in all public spaces’
“I will continue wearing a mask in all public spaces where I am in contact with others, unless entirely impractical such as when eating in a restaurant. I sing in a choir, and if we sing indoors, I will wear a special singer’s mask. We are now in a massive third wave. Despite the partially completed vaccination programme, hospitalisations are already creeping up, we have the long-term effects of long Covid, and a risk of new variants emerging that could wreak havoc. It seems a no-brainer that we should continue simple risk mitigation measures until the situation is properly under control, as is the case in other countries.” Michael, 52, an associate professor from Dursley
‘You have to be cautious’
“I think it is irresponsible to shift the onus on individuals and companies on the use of face coverings while the Delta variant is still surging – not just in the UK but across Europe. The government cannot simply move away from its ‘diktat’ approach when it comes to keeping the public safe and making decisions on public health. I’m feeling very anxious and will wear a mask in shops and other crowded places. You have to be cautious.” Paola Adeitan, 27, from Wiltshire
‘We don’t know how long any antibodies may last’
“I think it’s ludicrous to make such things optional. Yes hospital admissions are down and there’s some sense of hope due to the vaccination programme, but we don’t know how long any antibodies may last and without more data we could be in for a hard winter with further restrictions. Surely gathering this data, providing antibody testing, booster vaccination and tackling the idiotic anti-vaccination argument would be more pragmatic. I’ll be wearing a mask beyond 19 July in public spaces.” Tom, 35, a healthcare worker from Derby
‘I attend a gym and will be wearing a mask when going in and out’
“I feel that the wearing of masks should still be mandatory. Removal of all restrictions in one move is cavalier in the extreme. I will continue to wear a mask in enclosed spaces, especially in light of the increase in Covid-19 infections and the pressure on hospitals. I do attend a gym and will be wearing a mask when going in and out, but if too many people will come in I’m not sure I’ll be able to continue going, since exercising without a mask is not ideal. I’ll stick my toe in the water and see how it goes, in my view we’re opening up far too quickly.” Jane Beer, a retired teacher from Leeds
‘Masks should always have been optional’
“In my opinion masks should always have been optional. The government initially said they were ineffective, and scientists had a debate and said masks are a waste of time unless they’re hospital grade. Then that narrative changed. I personally believe as protection most masks people wear are useless but if they give people some peace of mind that’s fine. If I had symptoms I’d self-isolate and do a test, but I don’t need a nanny state to tell me what to do. I’d say to someone who is scared – if your mask works, then you should have confidence in the one you’re wearing. I also hate not seeing real human faces.” Paul Gray, 63, retired, f Faringdon, Oxfordshire
‘The rules don’t necessarily fit every situation’
“I won’t be wearing one next week. I don’t believe it should have been mandatory in the first place because being mandatory suggests that people are likely to be irresponsible, so that’s why I believe it should’ve always been optional because the rules don’t necessarily fit every situation, firstly. Secondly, it should be a personal choice because if somebody wants to take an extra precaution and wear a mask because they feel safer then that’s fine they shouldn’t be judged, but equally if somebody doesn’t want to and they feel safe enough then they shouldn’t be judged either.” Zayn Jaffer, 28, recruitment worker, Harrow
‘I fear catching the virus’
“On one hand I have hated wearing a mask, and it has been a factor in restricting my social activity. I have seriously defective vision without my glasses, and have failed to crack the problem of glasses steaming up when I wear a mask. On the other hand I am asthmatic and have respiratory problems, so I fear catching the virus myself. I am also concerned about passing the virus on to my son who is classed as clinically extremely vulnerable, or to the friend I am currently supporting who is on chemo. The changes proposed from Monday will, I think, at least in the short term, cause me to feel very anxious about going out and about, with or without a mask, owing to the increased risks, particularly as cases continue to rise. The messaging from the government needs to emphasise our responsibility to others alongside the narrative about personal freedom.” Madeline Cowley, retired, West Midlands
‘There’s no downside to wearing a mask’
“By its very nature, an epidemic is a public issue that requires public coordination and a cohesive public response. Pushing the responsibility on to individuals makes about as much sense as asking individuals to decide their own speed limit when driving, or asking individuals to maintain the roads they drive on. There’s no downside to wearing a mask, and I will wear one in all indoor public spaces, absolutely, no doubt.” Chris, 32, who works in tax technology and lives in London