Cabinet minister has signalled the end of compulsory mask wearing in England within weeks.
Environment Secretary George Eustice stressed the Government was aiming to remove the legal requirement to don a face covering in many public places on July 19.
He told Sky News: “What we want to do on July 19, and the Prime Minister has said that the data looks good to be able to have that end, is to remove all of the legal restrictions, that is all of the legal requirements to do things to be taken away completely.
“Whether there will still be some people who might choose to wear masks or whether they may be advisory in some settings that is a separate matter.
“But the objective of that final stage is to remove the legal requirement to do these things.”
Pressed on whether from July 19th people will not have to wear masks inside, he added: “As far as we are concerned, there won’t be a legal compulsion for you to.”
Asked if he would carry on wearing a mask, he responded: “I wouldn’t.
“Once I’m told that it’s safe not to I want to get back to normal.
“A lot of people will want to shed those masks but while it’s contributing to controlling the pandemic yes I will wear my mask like everybody else and obviously do my bit.”
Dr David Nabarro, a special envoy on Covid-19 for the World Health Organisation, believes mask wearing and keeping apart would still be needed in areas of high infection to control the virus.
He stressed that there was a need to “maintain defences against the virus to stop it welling up more and more, and that’s going to be the life to come, at least until there’s enough vaccine, and enough certainty, to be sure that vaccination will protect us. Right now we can’t say that”.
Dr Nabarro, Chair of Global Health at Imperial College London’s Institute of Global Health Innovation, said that due to variants “as well as using vaccine as part of our defence, we’re going to have to continue by keeping a bit of a distance from each other and then I’m going to suggest that the physical distancing part of one metre plus and mask wearing will be necessary, particularly in places where there’s a lot of virus. We can’t just simply ignore that.”
On workplaces, he said: “There will be a need for every single workplace to be asking, ‘is it right that we stop wearing masks and stop maintaining distance?’
He added: “Because that’s the way you prevent people from getting infected and that’s the key to stopping big spikes building up… I am advocating continued physical distancing, continued mask wearing for the time being, including in countries where there’s a lot of vaccination.”
Dr Nabarro said some of the variants that emerge “will be troublesome, they will be able to break through the vaccine-related protection in a few people, and that will cause problems.”
Mayor Sadiq Khan is concerned that abandoning the requirement to wear a face mask on the Tube and buses could be a mistake.
A spokesman for the Mayor said: “On the continuing wearing of face masks, it is important that we continue to follow the science around the extent to which they limit transmission on transport and in busy indoor spaces.
“Evidence shows that the wearing of facemasks gives many Londoners the confidence that they can travel safely on public transport.”
Travel watchdogs have also highlighted research which shows that some people could stop using public transport if passengers do not wear face coverings.