More than three-quarters of Inside Croydon readers say that they will continue to wear a face covering in public places, despite today’s government relaxation of precautions against the spread of covid-19.
Today marks what some have tried to characterise as “Freedom Day”, with the lifting of a range of lockdown measures, while others, concerned at the rapidly rising rates of infection in a third wave of coronavirus, point to recent trials of unmasked mass gatherings as super-spreader events.
The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show more than 48,000 new cases of covid-19 in the last 24 hours, 25 per cent higher than seven days earlier. The majority of new cases are from the Johnson variant, known by some as the Delta variant. So much for “data before dates”.
In total, more than 128,000 people in Britain have died as a result of covid-19 since the start of the pandemic.
In Croydon, meanwhile, the local Tories were tweeting to their handful of followers that most gammon of phrases, “Happy Freedom Day”, seemingly without the slightest regard for the thousands of people in the borough who have died, the tens of thousands more whose lives have been blighted by the virus, nor the hundreds of frontline workers, especially in the NHS, who may be placed at risk by what many scientists believe is an ill-advised and premature change in the laws on covid precautions.
At the heart of the debate over the lifting of lockdown is the removal of the obligation to wear masks in shops, in public spaces or on public transport.
In London, where transport workers were particularly badly affected in the first wave in March and April 2020, Mayor Sadiq Khan has insisted that masks are a “condition of carriage” on Transport for London buses, Tubes, Overground trains and trams.
“Remember, it’s still a requirement to wear a face mask on all TfL services unless you’re exempt,” Khan tweeted this morning.
“Face masks remain one of the most effective ways of stopping the transmission of covid-19—help keep yourself and other Londoners safe.”
His counterpart in Manchester, Andy Burnham, has made similar moves, and has been openly critical of the vacillating and inconsistent leadership offered from Downing Street. Yesterday, the Mayor of Manchester called on government to provide more clarity.
“Ministers should start now and make a clear statement that masks will continue to be mandatory on all public transport,” Burnham said.
Mayor Khan and TfL chiefs fear that the government’s mixed messaging – mask-wearing on Thameslink or Southern trains, though strongly recommended by the operators, is now only “advisory” – will undermine their efforts and make the task facing transport staff much harder.
City Hall will take some encouragement, then, from the results of an exclusive Inside Croydon poll, where 77 per cent of readers said that they would continue to use a mask or face covering in public spaces after today’s change in the rules.
The poll has been running for the past week, and although entirely unscientific, the sample size of readers, at more than 400, suggests a significant number in Croydon will be continuing to adopt best practice in the interests of the health and safety of others.
In Croydon, the NHS Trust has been running a series of public health campaigns, including reminders that masks are mandatory at its hospitals and surgeries, and also out and about at West Croydon Station on Sunday, trying to persuade people to get vaccinated against the virus.
There are signs from health officials in the borough that the take up of the vaccine, despite strenuous efforts in establishing a series of pop-up jab centres, has not been good enough to ensure that infection rates won’t accelerate as a result of the removal of other precautions.
Some local businesses, having been so hard-hit by the economic impact of the pandemic over the last 18 months, are still being cautious about how they expose their staff and customers to the change in regulations.
The Oval Tavern has announced that mask-wearing would continue to be a condition on their premises and that they would continue to ventilate the building and provide hand sanitiser.
The owner, Esther Sutton, said: “I hope we can gradually return to ‘normality’ over the coming months, but we’re not quite there yet I feel!”
And the Jolly Farmers Pub has also put out a similar message, confirming that masks should still be worn when moving around their Purley premises.
Additional reporting: Sanjana Idnani
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