Why July 19 will be Fearsome Day, not Freedom Day for many

Face mask sign

If people are to feel safe face masks have to remain compulsory on public transport and in shops. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Some people have welcomed this week's statement by the Prime Minister as confirmation that "Freedom Day" is coming on July 19 with the bonfire of most legally-enforceable Covid restrictions.

However, for a very large proportion of the population - quite possibly a majority - this is a reckless gamble that will plunge millions of people back into a self-imposed fourth lockdown.

Anyone who has seen my Twitter feed over the last few days will know I'm one of those who think the government's decision is hasty and flies in the face of logic as case numbers rise exponentially and both ministers and scientists agree that the numbers in hospital are also likely to continue rising.

I do feel there is scope for some relaxation on July 19. I don't see why nightclubs can't reopen or outdoor sports grounds be filled to capacity. I'm not opposed to theatres being able to play to capacity audiences (although it would have to be a very, very good show to tempt me back yet).

But at these venues face coverings and giving test and trace data should be mandatory. With the number of cases set to reach 50,000 a day by the middle of the month there has to be a way of keeping tabs on the progress of the disease.

The decision to make mask-wearing voluntary flies in the face of all scientific advice as case numbers rise.

What is the purpose of wearing a face mask? It is not really to benefit the wearer. All scientific data shows that most face masks (except very expensive medical-grade equipment) provide very limited protection to the wearer.

What masks do is catch the particles you breathe out - they offer a pretty high level of protection to other people..

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So wearing a mask is an act of altruism. You are doing it for other people rather than your own benefit. And I have no doubt that a large number of people will continue to be masked on public transport and in other confined spaces for precisely that reason.

However, what about those who won't wear masks? What worries me is that people who don't see the need to wear masks to protect others are precisely the kind of people who should be wearing masks! If you don't take reasonable precautions you're far more likely to be a potential spreader of the disease.

I am appalled that the requirement to wear masks in enclosed spaces is being scrapped - I find that more worrying than the relaxation in the social distancing rules. And it is that which I fear will plunge millions back into effective self-isolation.

Over the last few months people have resumed some of the "normal" activities - going to the pub, meeting friends in a coffee shop, going to the cinema, going out for a meal.

I'm sure that the safety measures put in place - especially wearing face masks - played a huge part in persuading them that such activities were safe. They certainly did for me.

But will they feel as safe going out without those safety measures -- especially as case numbers rise?

Personally, and with case numbers in Ipswich and Suffolk generally still being low, I probably will continue to visit a coffee shop every Saturday to catch up with a friend. I probably will go to see the latest Marvel blockbuster at Cineworld (I've been looking forward to Black Widow for months!)

But if cases start to rise? That could be a different story. And it may be some time before I feel confident to take one of my usually regular rail trips around the region to Lowestoft, Cromer or Ely.

Paul Geater catching the London train at Ipswich.

Compulsory face masks are vital if more people are to be encouraged to use public transport. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

And for some people - especially those who are older or more vulnerable - the change is already set to plunge them back into a form of self-isolation.

I've already heard from a pensioner who said that if fellow passengers don't have to wear masks on the bus journey to Ipswich town centre then they'll stay at home and not make their twice-weekly trip to the market.

What is interesting is that the first poll by Yougov following the Prime Minister's announcement showed that 71% of respondents felt masks should continue to be required on public transport and 66% felt they should remain a requirement in shops.

That suggests that throwing all the rules away isn't the most popular policy for the government!

Two final points. We know vaccines are working by reducing the number of cases that require hospital treatment or result in death - but the fact is that even "mild" Covid is clearly a very nasty disease. Those who have had it say it feels much worse than flu.

It's not a trivial ailment to just be dismissed.

And I just don't get this argument "If not now, we'll never be free of restrictions."

Case numbers are rising now - keep the current restrictions and they could soon start to fall as more young people get their first and second jabs. By mid-August we should be in a much better place, but this does feel as if the government has abandoned its first rule - and is being ruled by dates, not data.

Freedom Day may be on the way for some on July 19, but for millions of others that date will be Fearsome Day - and could just mark the start of a new lockdown nightmare.

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