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Companies divided over continued Covid mask wearing

Wearing face masks will become a matter of “personal choice” with the end of restrictions in England on 19 July, Prime Minister Boris Johnson says. But it seems that companies and individuals intend to interpret the change differently.

While, for example, some airlines have confirmed face masks will still be compulsory after 19 July, shops, pubs and hairdressers are altering policies.

The World Health Organization still advises masks continuing to be mandatory on public transport, in shops and in crowded places. So, a day after the government’s announcement, what are the intentions?

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Airlines: Little reason to change policy

A family heads to the security check at John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, CA on Wednesday, June 30.IMAGE COPYRIGHTGETTY IMAGES

Ryanair says masks will be mandatory, regardless of the departing destination. A spokesperson added that this was in keeping with current guidance from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

British Airways says it intends to continue asking customers and staff to continue to wear masks on board. “We keep our policies under constant review,” said a spokesperson, adding that the airline sees no reason yet to change its existing rules.

EasyJet and Virgin have also told customers that, for the time being at least, passengers should continue to wear masks.

Passengers flying with Jet2 will not be allowed to board their flight without a face mask, unless they have previously given a reason for not wearing one.

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What about public transport?

Bus driverIMAGE COPYRIGHTGETTY IMAGES

Industry body the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train companies, says that travelling by train is “low risk” and “any decision to leave public transport behind other parts of the economy would need to be based on the science”.

It says trains are “well ventilated with air regularly refreshed either by air conditioning systems, or by doors and windows being opened”.

The group adds, though, that wearing a mask can help protect other rail users.

However, the Unite union has said that dropping mask-wearing on public transport would be “gross negligence”.

Unite’s national officer for passenger transport, Bobby Morton, pointed to the number of deaths from Covid among bus drivers.

“Rates of infection are continuing to increase and not only does mask wearing reduce transmissions, it helps provide reassurance to drivers and to passengers who are nervous about using public transport.”

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Pubs welcome the chance to get back to normal, but…

Staff pour a pint at a pubIMAGE COPYRIGHTGETTY IMAGES

Clive Watson, chief executive of the City Pub Group, which has 45 pubs across the south England and Wales, says masks will be encouraged after 19 July and as much table service as possible will continue.

“We don’t want a free-for-all scrum at the bar, loads of people queuing up,” he says.

Staff will also be encouraged to continue to wear masks and Mr Watson says he wants to maintain half of all orders coming through their app.

However, Chris Jowsey, chief executive of Admiral Taverns, which has 850 pubs, says the lifting of all restrictions is “long overdue”. He adds that 19 July will “be critical for the future of our industry, supporting community hubs across the UK and allowing businesses to operate as normal once again”.

The Mitchells and Butlers pub group, whose chains include All Bar One, Harvester and O’Neill’s, said it would confirm what its policies would be from 19 July “in due course”.

Andrew Barker, a pub landlord in north Lancashire, says he expects hospitality businesses to remain cautious once restrictions are eased.

Mr Barker – who runs several pubs in Lancaster – is appealing to customers to be sensible, and told the BBC: “It will be customer choice, but I don’t see how anyone could enforce it if they want to stay in business without masks being mandatory.”

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Shops and services remain cautious

ShoppersIMAGE COPYRIGHTPA MEDIA

Shop workers union Usdaw has urged the government not to lift Covid safety measures in shops.

“Retail staff are working with the public every day and are deeply worried about catching Covid-19,” said Paddy Lillis, Usdaw general secretary.

“This is not the right time to water down safety in stores and the government should not be removing the requirements of face coverings and distancing in busy public areas like shops.”

But Sainsbury’s boss Simon Roberts said mask wearing in stores would be a matter of “personal choice” after 19 July. And the Westfield shopping centre group said it would let customers decide whether to wear masks or not.

Restaurant chain Nando’s said it was to early to announce what its position would be, adding it was waiting for “full guidance next week before we can finalise our position”.

Among smaller businesses, Joe Hemmings, who owns two hairdressers in Bristol, says he’ll be taking a staged approach to mask wearing: “To go from all of the PPE to nothing overnight is too radical for the sheer fact of peoples’ anxiety and the need for precaution.”

Eight of his 17 staff are aged about 30 and won’t have had their second jab by 19 July. “We need to make sure we can do everything we can to protect the team,” he says.

If customers refuse to wear a mask, Mr Hemmings says “it’s a tricky one” but he’ll “have to honour” their decision. “We’d like to think it is everyone’s best interest for us all to wear them inside,” he adds.

The cost of shutting down the salons for one day due to a case would be at least £3,000 so he plans to phase out masks over a three-month period depending on local case numbers in Bristol.

Sarah Laker, who owns Stationary Supplies in Cheshire, says she won’t ask customers to wear masks because she feels it has “really affected” her trade and having to ask customers to wear them has resulted in some incidents where they have become abusive.

“Customers aren’t comfortable in them so they either visit the shop and don’t browse, or shop online instead,” she told the BBC.

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