Clash of views

Splits emerge over Johnson’s Covid easing plan

Office working with mask

Wearing masks may become ‘optional’

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s expected decision to drastically ease Covid restrictions is being challenged by his own scientific advisers, the Labour opposition and the Scottish Government.

Mr Johnson wants to see a return to a near-normal situation as soon as possible and will confirm next Monday whether social distancing and mask-wearing will be dropped in England from 19 July.

The move is also likely to trigger a return of employees to offices and more commuters on public transport.

But the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) warned that removing restrictions would allow virus cases to rise, presenting a ‘significant risk’ that they may need to return this winter. It said life may never return completely to normal.

The group said that should a ‘variant of concern’ arrive that threatened immunity, lockdown restrictions would need to reimposed for much longer. 

The decision to scrap mask-wearing was branded “reckless” by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, and the Scottish Government has insisted face coverings will continue have a role to play in the fight against the coronavirus.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: “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 0.

Boris Johnson is expected to ease restrictions

“While we hope we are in the process of emerging from the pandemic, case rates at the moment underline the fact that this virus is still with us.

“Physical distancing, face coverings, hand-washing, staying at home if you have symptoms and getting tested, some flexibility from employers with regards home-working and – above all – getting vaccinated will all continue to be important tools in helping keep transmission down, and part of the collective, civic duty we all owe to each other.

“Face coverings are a hugely important mitigation in the fight against COVID-19 as they create a physical barrier that helps stop the virus spreading from an infected person, while providing a degree of protection to the wearer against exposure to the virus.

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