UK government rejects mandatory mask-wearing despite soaring Covid cases

Health secretary warns if enough people do not take up booster vaccinations and modify their behaviour restrictions could return

The Covid-19 Memorial Wall in London. Some 954 people died in Britain with coronavirus during the past week. Photograph: EPA/Andy Rain

The Covid-19 Memorial Wall in London. Some 954 people died in Britain with coronavirus during the past week. Photograph: EPA/Andy Rain

 

The British government has rejected calls to bring back mandatory mask-wearing and advising people to work from home despite soaring coronavirus cases and almost 1,000 deaths with the virus in the past week.However, health secretary Sajid Javid warned that if enough people do not take up booster vaccinations and modify their behaviour restrictions could return.

“We need to sustain the progress we’ve made. We could lose it, we really could lose it, if people don’t take up their vaccination offers,” he told a press conference in Downing Street.

“If we want to secure these freedoms for the long term then the best thing we can do is come forward once again when that moment comes.”

With new coronavirus cases now running at 44,000 a day, Britain’s case numbers per head of population are far higher than any of its European neighbours and considerably higher than in the United States.

Daily cases are at their highest since July, but Mr Javid warned that they could more than double to 100,000 a day during the winter. Hospitalisations with coronavirus are approaching 1,000 a day, and 954 people in Britain died with the virus during the past week.

Pressure

Prime minister Boris Johnson lifted all legal coronavirus restrictions in England in July, but Mr Javid said last month that the government could bring in “Plan B” measures if the National Health Service (NHS) came under “unsustainable pressure”.

They include making face coverings compulsory again in some indoor settings, introducing mandatory coronavirus passports for entry into some venues and advising people to work from home.

The NHS Confederation, which represents the trusts that provide NHS services, called on Wednesday for all these measures to be considered immediately.

“I speak to health service leaders every day, and I have literally not spoken to any leader who doesn’t say their service is under intense pressure now. We are in October and it is only going to get worse,” chief executive Matthew Taylor told the BBC.

“The risk of the NHS being overwhelmed is there. At the moment the system is working flat out and those winter pressures are going to grow. One of the consequences of not taking action is it will be very difficult to make any progress at all for those people who have been waiting a very long time for treatment.”

Plan B

Mr Javid said that the government was not ready to initiate Plan B immediately, but he made clear that the next steps depended on public behaviour.

“If not enough people get their booster jabs, if the unvaccinated don’t come forward, if people don’t wear masks when they really should, it’s going to hit us all. And it would of course make it more likely that we’re going to have those restrictions.

“We all want to avoid those. We can do it, because we’ve already done it. We know what to do and how to do it. We’ve just got to play our part. So if you’re invited for a vaccination, please take them,” he said.