Boris Johnson has been urged to U-turn over the decision to remove the mandatory requirement to wear face masks in England.
Leading medics called for masks to remain mandatory in healthcare settings, while London Mayor Sadiq Khan said they would still be compulsory on the capital’s transport network once the national restrictions end on Monday.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps backed Mr Khan’s move, despite the Government’s decision to scrap many of England’s coronavirus laws on Monday.
The Government has called for the public to exercise caution on “freedom day” on July 19, with a recommendation that masks should still be used in crowded and enclosed spaces.
But in a letter to the Prime Minister, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in England, the British Medical Association, British Dental Association, Royal College of Nursing and the College of Optometrists called for mandatory use of face masks, social distancing and regular handwashing by the public to stay in place past July 19 in all healthcare settings.
“While you state that you would expect the public to continue wearing face coverings in healthcare settings, we ask that this is translated into action,” they told the Prime Minister.
“As the rules change, this must be backed by clear Government communications for the public, so that health and care staff are not caught in the middle and placed at increased risk of abuse.”
And the NHS Providers organisation, which represents NHS trusts, called for “clear communication” about infection control measures in the health service.
In London, Mr Khan warned against a “gung ho” approach to Monday’s lifting of restrictions across England and said he was “disappointed” that a national approach on face coverings had not been found.
Mr Khan said he was “not prepared” to put Tube, tram and bus users in the capital “at risk” by removing the rules on face coverings.
Wearing a mask will be made a condition of carriage, meaning enforcement officers would be able to deny access or eject passengers found to be non-compliant while using the Transport for London network.
“Of course, I’m disappointed it’s not a compulsory requirement across the country,” he told the PA news agency.
“Because I think in a crisis, in a pandemic, simplicity is crucial.”
He said the Government should continue to look at the evidence on masks.
“It takes time, often, for the Government to do right.
“I began lobbying the Government last March or April about the importance of wearing a face mask, it wasn’t compulsory until June.
“I’m hoping the Government will continue to review the evidence.”
The requirement will mean passengers on all TfL services, which includes the Tube, bus, tram, Docklands Light Railway (DLR), Overground and TfL Rail, need to continue to wear a face covering in stations and for the duration of their journey unless they are exempt.
Mr Khan has also asked TfL to put measures in place to help ensure the continued use of masks in taxis and private hire vehicles by both drivers and passengers unless they are exempt.
Mr Shapps backed Mr Khan’s move, telling Sky News “it is very much in line with what we expected, indeed wanted, to happen”.
Mr Johnson would have risked another damaging Tory revolt in the Commons if he had sought to maintain the legal order to wear face coverings.
Instead the Government is relying on firms and members of the public to take responsibility themselves.
In other developments:
– Wales plans to ease some restrictions on July 17, with almost all coronavirus measures lifted from August 7, but it will remain the law to wear a face mask on public transport and in most indoor settings.
– Two-thirds of adults in the UK are now estimated to have received both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine, latest figures show.
– Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin has mandated that people must continue wearing face masks at bus stations in the region.
– An Ipsos Mori survey found that around three-quarters of Britons are likely to continue wearing face coverings in shops and while using public transport even when they are no longer compulsory.
Elsewhere, reports claim popular Spanish holiday islands are in danger of being moved on to the amber list just a fortnight after being approved for quarantine-free travel.
The Balearic islands, including tourist hotspots Ibiza, Mallorca and Menorca, could be set to be moved off the green watchlist – destinations the Government considers safe for travel but which could potentially be downgraded to the amber list.
The Sun, which first reported the alleged travel change, quoted a source saying: “It’s all still up for discussion, but the figures aren’t great which is why it was on the watch list in the first place.”
Mr Shapps told BBC Breakfast: “We review these every three weeks.
“I hope we have made very clear to everybody when booking trips at the moment there is always the chance that countries will move around.
“Some countries may go to the red list, some countries may go to the green, but some may move the other way to the amber list.
“It is a fact of life that they will continue to move around as the virus continues to develop and change globally.”