Scottish Government insists 'ongoing need' for face coverings as requirement set to be lifted in England
The Scottish Government has insisted that there will be an “ongoing need” for face coverings as restrictions ease, despite a UK Minister suggesting the rules would be scrapped south of the Border.
UK Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said yesterday he wanted the “whole of the Union” to end restrictions at the same time. Speaking ahead of a planned unlocking in England on July 19, he said he wanted the administrations to be as “co-ordinated as possible”, and he also appeared to confirm plans to scrap social distancing and mandatory mask-wearing requirements on so-called “Freedom Day”.
Appearing the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, the senior cabinet minister also, however, acknowledged the picture was different across the Union.
He said: “We would like the whole of the Union to move as one. We are going to work with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to try and be as coordinated as possible.
“Cases are slightly different in each of the four nations but certainly in England, our view is that things are looking positive for July 19.”
Scotland is due to move to level zero on July 19, with all other major legal restrictions scheduled to be dropped on August 9.
However, that does not currently include mandatory face face coverings, with the Scottish government insisting decisions had not yet been made.
On Sunday evening the Scottish Government warned the number of new cases was still a “cause for concern”.
A spokesman said: "It was anticipated cases would rise as, with the agreement of Parliament, we moved out of lockdown restrictions and we are continuing to closely monitor hospitalisation data.
“As the Health Secretary and First Minister have said, the Delta variant which accounts for the overwhelming bulk of all new cases, is significantly more transmissible than previous variants and is helping to driving the recent steep rise in cases.
“Scotland also currently has lower antibody positivity levels which may be as a result of lower case numbers previously, leaving the population potentially more vulnerable to infection.
“We continue to closely monitor the situation in all local authorities and will adapt our response accordingly.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she is remaining optimistic the planned easing of restrictions in July will not be delayed amid a surge in cases.
The spokesman also confirmed masks were not set to be removed from the measures.
They continued: "We will take account of social and economic factors as well as the epidemiological impact on transmission and will keep measures under review.
"As the first minister has set out, we will have to manage living with Covid 19 for some time to come, even when we are able to move beyond level zero.
"There will still be some ongoing need for face coverings, for example on public transport and in retail, and we will be working with sectors to establish baseline mitigations and produce further guidance by end of July."
According to reports at the weekend, mask wearing in England will become voluntary in all settings and the one metre-plus rule in hospitality venues will end, meaning a return to drinking at the bar without the requirement for table service.
Mass events, including festivals, will also be allowed under the proposals for the final stage of the road map out of lockdown.
Mr Jenrick said yesterday: “It does look as if, thanks to the success of the vaccine programme, that we now have the scope to roll back those restrictions and return to normality as far as possible.
“We have been living now for 18 months with extraordinary restrictions of one kind or another.
“It does look as if, thanks to the success of the vaccine programme, that we now have the scope to roll back those restrictions and return to normality as far as possible.
“We should all be prepared though that cases may continue to rise, they may continue to rise significantly but we do now have to move into a different period where we learn to live with the virus, we take precautions and we as individuals take personal responsibility.”
Despite the optimistic approach, Mr Jenrick refused to confirm the restrictions would be lifted on July 19.
He said: “I can’t make that commitment this morning because the Prime Minister is going to make an announcement in the coming days, but it does look as if the data is in the right places.
“Cases are rising and that should make us cautious but it isn’t translating into serious illness and death.
“It does feel as if we are now in the final furlong, in a period in which we can start to live with the virus and move on with our lives.”
It comes as the new Health Secretary Sajid Javid claimed easing restrictions actually had health benefits.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday, he said: “The economic arguments for opening up are well known, but for me, the health arguments are equally compelling.
“The pandemic has hit some groups disproportionately hard. Rules that we have had to put in place have caused a shocking rise in domestic violence and a terrible impact on so many people’s mental health.
"I know many people will be cautious about the easing of restrictions – that’s completely understandable.
“But no date we choose will ever come without risk, so we have to take a broad and balanced view. We are going to have to learn to accept the existence of Covid and find ways to cope with it – just as we already do with flu.”
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