The Prime Minister has announced the removal of almost all COVID controls from 19 July, including rules on social distancing and the cap on the numbers allowed at events. The wearing of face masks on public transport and in shops and hospitals will cease to be mandatory and will become a matter of personal choice.
British Safety Council believes that while the withdrawal of some regulations is valid, removing the mask mandate is the wrong decision to take now and risks real danger to workers. With COVID cases rising rapidly, masks protect others should you be asymptomatic, so wearing a mask indoors and in crowds reduces the risk of further spreading the disease. While the vaccination programme has been a success, being vaccinated only reduces the likelihood of ending up in hospital, but it does not give full immunity, so the risk of serious illness remains high. Furthermore, although the link between cases and hospitalisations is weakened, it's not broken – the expected 100,000 cases a day could lead to 2,000 admissions, twice what the NHS sees in the depths of winter for all respiratory infections. Plus, millions of people are not yet fully vaccinated.
British Safety Council believes that delegating the decision on the wearing of masks to individuals risks chaos and confusion, as organisations and businesses interpret the change differently and impose their own rules. What businesses need most is certainty and consistency on what is the right thing to do. The mixed messaging from Government is failing to provide reassurance to workers in transport, healthcare and retail who remain concerned about their safety. We’ve heard from British Safety Council retail members, for example, that they are planning to leave in place check-out screening to protect workers. Not only does this provide a physical barrier but also psychological reassurance to staff.
British Safety Council therefore urges the Government to re-think its policy on the wearing of face masks given the risks it presents to worker safety and not leave the decision to personal choice.
Lawrence Waterman, Chairman of British Safety Council, said:
“To go from the controls put in place for the last 15 months to nothing overnight is a significant risk and particularly to UK workers. While we would all like to believe that everyone will act responsibly, experience shows us this is not guaranteed. There has been a fantastic level of public compliance with the rules, why go from collective protection to a free-for-all? The Prime Minster himself has said caution is absolutely vital – if he truly believes this, then he should show leadership on the wearing of masks rather than take a leap of faith into the unknown that risks all the sacrifices and hard-won progress made since March 2020.”