Updated: Aug 20, 2021
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said people will still be "expected" to wear masks in enclosed spaces after step four of the roadmap
The government will set out guidelines saying people are “expected to wear masks in indoor enclosed spaces” even after the end of all legal coronavirus restrictions next week.
The comments from the vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi signal a shift in tone after Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted face coverings will become a “personal choice” once the country moves onto step 4 of the roadmap out of the coronavirus lockdown.
It comes as Labour suggested mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham would continue to mandate mask wearing on the region’s public transport system.
Appearing on Sky News this morning, ahead of Johnson’s briefing tomorrow confirming the final easing of restrictions - referred to as “freedom day” - will take place on 19 July, Zahawi was asked if the link between Covid infections and hospitalisations has been “severed” or merely “broken” after contradictory statements by senior figures this week.
The minister said it had been "severely weakened", before adding: "It's important that we remain cautious and careful and the guidelines that we will 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 hands and face.”
This is despite multiple Cabinet ministers confirming they do not plan to wear masks after 19 July, even on public transport, with Chancellor Rishi Sunak saying he will ditch his “as soon as possible”.
Zahawi also said he is "confident" despite rising case numbers England will move to the next stage of roadmap, telling the Trevor Phillips On Sunday programme: "We're seeing a rise in infection rates in this country, but also in Europe and elsewhere.
“The difference for us is that the vaccination programme has been so successful."
But he admitted these were "the hard yards", when asked if vaccination rates were slowing down.
"What we need to make sure is as the virus gets desperate and attempts to infect people, to mutate and be able to survive, we should continue to fortify the nation with a vaccination programme because that is the way we transition it from pandemic to endemic status,” Zahawi said.
However he dismissed a story in The Sunday Times suggesting the official advice will shift so the gap between receiving the first and second jabs will be cut a second time down to just four weeks.
The vaccines minister said: "The real-world data, the clinical data suggests that actually the eight-week interval offers that additional fortification in terms of protection with the two doses, at much better than having the interval shortened any further.”
Appearing on the same programme, shadow education secretary Kate Green was asked if the Labour mayor of London Sadiq Khan, and Burnham in Greater Manchester, would be requiring a mandatory mask on the Tube and tram systems they have responsibility for.
She told Sky News: “I hope they will and I believe I think I'm right in saying that Andy [Burnham] has already indicated that here in Manchester that's what he will do.
“I certainly think that having travelled regularly on both the Tube and the tram all through the pandemic, when I was allowed to, that wearing masks and seeing other others wearing masks was a source of great reassurance and people want to do it.”