Thank you for your email to Lucy about the mandatory requirement to wear masks in shops.
The Prime Minister and Government have been clear that they are extremely uncomfortable with any infringement of individual liberties. Given the exceptional circumstances and threat to life posed by coronavirus, parliamentarians across the House of Commons have reluctantly supported lockdown measures in order to suppress transmission of the coronavirus. The Prime Minister has said that it is a priority of this Government to relax restrictions and measures as soon as it is medically safe to do so.
Lucy has been consistent in her support for this position, but acknowledges that this is conditional on the science and the ability to mitigate spread as we slowly return to a more normal life.
It is very likely that we would see an increase in cases as more people come in close contact and masks are a key part of mitigating this. Rates of transmission are very low, but as has been seen abroad this can spiral very quickly. It follows that a second peak would necessitate further lockdowns which would demand another deeply uncomfortable restriction on liberties to protect lives. The damage to the economy that a second peak may cause could possibly lead to millions of avoidable redundancies and destroyed livelihoods resulting from a failure to control the disease now by wearing masks in shops and on public transport.
The economic impact of coronavirus is unprecedented, and it is imperative that people visit shops to support local business. Lucy has seen first-hand the impact of lockdown on her constituents, businesses and shops in Telford and is encouraging everyone to shop in person again to support local jobs. Many businesses, especially small companies or those working in customer-facing roles, have been disproportionally impacted and the Chancellor has acknowledged that despite the massive amounts of financial support, it is likely the impact of the disease will lead to a very serious recession and increased unemployment. The Government has to balance the risk of increased transmission of the coronavirus with the necessity to reopen shops and businesses. Crucially, masks significantly reduce the spread of airborne particles from those carrying the disease. People can be a vector of the disease without exhibiting symptoms for at least several days and the scientific community is clear that masks lower the risk of public transmission. The nature of this particular disease is such that new cases can multiply very quickly if in the right conditions, and overwhelm the capacity of health systems with very little warning.
This new announcement specifically refers to the necessity to wear masks inside shops where there is a high footfall and people are often in close contact with each other. It is an unfortunate fact that those who work in these sectors, often from low income or minority communities, have seen a disproportionally high infection and fatality rate compared to the public as a whole.
Not wearing a mask does not just increase risk to yourself, but crucially to others through the possibility of carrying or potentially spreading the disease. This is why the Government has had to make it mandatory for people to wear masks in shops – for the benefit of public health.
Voluntary use of masks poses the tangible risk of too few people wearing them and unknowingly spreading the disease within the community, even if they are comfortable with the risk of catching the disease themselves. Again please rest assured that the Government is extremely uncomfortable mandating any curtailments on liberty and has only come to this decision following careful scrutiny of the risks and responsibilities.
In practical terms, masks can be unpleasant to wear and people are of course to remove them outside shops in line with the medical guidance and social distancing requirements. It is encouraging that both new cases and deaths are now at a very low level compared to the peak in April and it is therefore the right time to encourage a phased return to work and retail.
Tackling the disease is a national effort and successful suppression of the disease now as we reopen the economy is vital to ensuring there is no need to reimpose restrictions on our liberties that we have unfortunately seen as a result of coronavirus. The sooner this can be done the sooner the remaining rules and restrictions associated with coronavirus can be removed. All coronavirus legislation is legally required to be reviewed every 6 months. I hope this addresses the points you have raised in full.
James Lawrie Senior Parliamentary Assistant & Communications Officer
Office of Lucy Allan MP