The 19th of July has been nicknamed “freedom day”, the day when all restrictions can be lifted and we can basically go back to how things used to be. The government plans to legally lift all restrictions, including the more minor ones like wearing a mask.
We probably didn’t think we’d ever say this, but mask wearing in the last year or so has become a political act. By not wearing one, you could be making a statement that you don’t believe the virus is harmful, real, or that you believe very strongly in your personal individual right to choose whether you wear one. Wearing a mask could show you believe the virus is harmful to some and that you believe wearing a mask is a reasonable price to pay for protecting others and yourself.
So, with the government keen to no longer make masks a legal requirement, what do England’s young people think about the lifting of mandatory mask wearing? We asked three young people what their thoughts are.
Harry is a student in Leicester. He says “I think it’s [lifting mask wearing restrictions] a bad idea.
Wearing a mask is something that works two ways, I wear one to protect you and you wear it to protect me. In this era of misinformation a lot of people don’t see the point in wearing one, so keeping those laws in place feels important.TFL (Transport for London) have announced it will continue to be mandatory on public transport which is good.”
Harry is empathetic to people being tired of living under covid but says “people want to go back to normal, but unfortunately we can’t. The vaccine has definitely helped reduce the number of deaths, but it’s weakened, not a broken link.” He also thinks Boris Johnson is scared of keeping restrictions too long as “this government is populist and they want to be popular with the people. He doesn’t want to ‘cancel Christmas’ like he had to do last year. He wants this government to be remembered fondly, though after 100,000 deaths you’d think people wouldn’t be so supportive”.
He sees the issue of mask wearing as a now politicised issue, telling us “It’s become a political thing, it will cause tensions and divides which this government thrives off of. But the government could end up u-turning; we’ve already seen a rise in [covid] cases, and as someone who’s had covid it was awful and i wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I guess we see how it goes.” As to whether he’ll continue wearing one, he says “I will continue wearing one, I see it as a civic duty to help protect others”.
Molly is a student, living in Greater London. She says “I don’t think it’s a great idea, as it’s fairly obvious as a lot of people don’t take mask wearing seriously and have any intention of wearing them past it being mandatory. It’s also not great as it will put a lot of disabled people at risk. The change is a little bit ableist.”
She’s also concerned that many won’t choose to wear masks without the rules in place. “It was quite obvious that when wearing a mask was a personal choice at the beginning of the pandemic, many didn’t wear one. The way covid has been framed in general by the government has been to blame the public for the spread, when it’s actually due to bad handling by the government, creating confusing rules and lifting restrictions too early.”
Even other young people she feels may choose not to wear one. “In my friendship group we’re pretty much the same, we all want to keep wearing masks, but more generally at school there are a lot of people who don’t take it seriously. I don’t think it’s unanimous that all young people will keep wearing masks regardless of restrictions being lifted”.
She’s also unsure Boris Johnson will actually get rid of mask wearing restrictions on the 19th July. “I think it will probably get delayed, there’s been lots of u-turns and if not this, there will be u-turns on others. I think lifting or making masks a personal choice will mess up the timeline of lifting of all other restrictions.”
Hayden lives in London and says “I think it’s a terrible idea. The vast majority of people would be happy to keep wearing masks in crowded spaces or indoor spaces if it meant we could return to mostly normality sooner. What will happen now is that because we’re opening up with no restrictions, cases will soar and we’ll end up having another lockdown after summer.”
Hayden also feels the consequences of less people wearing masks could disproportionately impact younger people. “the people who don’t want to wear masks are probably older, more consevraitve, white people who may have been double vaccinated. This could be a generalisation of course, but young people are likely to be punished again as we’re the ones who will want to go out and see our friends but we’ll be hindered because more people will not be wearing masks.”
He feels like the choice to lift masks restrictions by the government is led by party politics. “political pressure from lockdown sceptics and ignoring the actual public’s opinion. It’s typical Boris style nationalism is driving this decision to ditch mask wearing rules”.
He adds “across the UK the rules are all contradictory and conflicting. Sadiq Khan (the mayor of London) has said it will be mandatory on London public transport, and in Wales masks will be mandatory in all indoor spaces, like trains and shops etc. it means your safety is very dependent on where you live.”
Hayden is also adamant that he will continue wearing masks regardless of the rule changes, on “public transport and in shops, bars, cafes and restaurants when moving around. I think most people see that as reasonable and most would be happy to do so for the next year. We’d rather just open up and have near normality but keep these small restrictions like using QR codes or wearing masks. But choosing to ditch masks means the NHS could be overwhelmed with cases. Most people in my social circles see the rule change as ridiculous and want to keep wearing masks. No one wants to keep restrictions for longer than necessary but these small measures would make such a big difference.”
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