Masks won’t be mandatory in shops and on public transport from next Thursday, with work from home guidance scrapped
Image: AFP via Getty Images)
Relaxing Plan B coronavirus curbs is “too much, too soon”, ministers were warned amid fears over the impact of scrapping measures.
Work from home guidance has been axed in England and children were allowed to take off their masks in classrooms from Thursday as experts said the Omicron wave had peaked.
Next Thursday, Covid passes are no longer needed and face coverings will no longer be mandatory in indoor public spaces, including on public transport.
Self-isolation laws for infected people are due to expire in March – and could be axed sooner.
But there were growing fears lifting measures could trigger a resurgence in the highly-transmissible variant.
Latest data showed another 107,364 infections and 330 deaths.
Union leaders believe easing curbs could backfire – and TV doctor Hilary Jones agreed.
“This is a worry to many, many people. It’s not just me who thinks it’s too much too soon,” he told ITV ’s Good Morning Britain.
“Teachers, NHS providers, the Royal College of Nursing, Unison – they’re all very concerned that taking away all restrictions suddenly, despite the data, is too much too soon.”
Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said: “The danger is people will think it’s all over when no one can be sure that’s true.
“New cases are no longer on the rise, but thousands are in hospital and many more are still being infected each day.
“Rather than allowing a free-for-all, ministers should be urging caution and encouraging continued mask-wearing on transport, in public places and in schools, where it can still make a real difference.”
Trades Union Congress general secretary Frances O’Grady warned: “Face coverings have been proven to reduce the spread of Covid.
“Making them optional on public transport and in shops at this stage in the pandemic is premature and will put workers at risk.”
Figures showed commuters continuing to return to public transport as the latest wave subsides.
Network Rail said the number of passengers using its stations between 6am and 10.30am was up 10% compared with the same period last week – a rise from 275,000 travellers to 303,000.
Transport for London said about 1.09 million entries and exits were recorded on the Tube network up to 10am – up 8% on the same time last week.
The Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association said masks should be worn while the coronavirus threat remains.
General secretary Manuel Cortes said: “We know that face coverings help reduce transmission of the virus and will give the public confidence on public transport.
“It’s vital our brave transport members who have been on the frontline of this pandemic continue to feel they are protected.”
Health Secretary Sajid Javid admitted he will continue to wear a mask while shopping even after Plan B restrictions are axed.
“Will I be wearing a face mask? Yeah, I think I probably would be in a week’s time,” he said.
Prevalence is still high and there will be people there – especially if I am going to my local shop which is small and enclosed and can have quite a few people in there at one time in quite a small space; I don’t know most of those people – I think that would be sensible.
“I think it will be sensible on the Tube in London, for example – quite an enclosed space.
“People will be asked to make their own personal judgement just as we do in fighting flu.”
He defended abolishing the requirement for kids to wear masks in class.
“The Government’s job is to take a balanced and proportionate decision, in this case balanced against the best interests of children,” he said.
“It is harder to teach children and it will have an impact on their education if they are required to wear face masks at all times in classrooms.”
The Cabinet Minister was “optimistic” the legal requirement for people in England to self-isolate with Covid can be lifted in the coming weeks.
“The current legislation is expiring in March unless Parliament decides to renew it,” he said.
“I do want to see a time as soon as we can to remove all remaining rules and restrictions around Covid because we do have to learn to live with this virus in the same way we have learned to live, for example, with the flu.”