At Step 4, the emphasis of the national response to coronavirus will shift from rules and regulation towards expecting people to protect themselves, and others, through informed choice. As you know, this will mean that, when we move to Step 4, the legal obligation to wear a face covering will end. It will however be expected and recommended that people wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces, such as on public transport.
In private settings, such as shops, it will be up to private businesses to decide what rules, if any, they wish to have in place. Further guidance on steps individuals can take to keep themselves, and others, safe will be published shortly.
I am told that in September, the Government will undertake a review to assess the country’s preparedness for autumn and winter, which will consider whether to continue or strengthen public and business guidance as we approach the winter, including on face coverings.
I appreciate that this may be a worrying time for some. The virus is still with us; it has not gone away and the risk of a dangerous new variant that evades vaccines remains real. However, with our incredible vaccine rollout and the treatments available to those who are hospitalised with COVID-19, the link between cases, hospitalisations and deaths has been substantially weakened. The reason we can contemplate going ahead to Step 4 is because of the continuing effectiveness of the vaccine roll-out.
Ultimately, the guidance will ask people to use their common sense, and be mindful of others. For example, if someone is in an environment where there are many other people around them, particularly those that we know are more vulnerable, they may wish to wear a face covering. In private settings, such as shops, it will be up to private businesses to decide what rules, if any, they wish to have in place.
Of course, the pandemic is not over and the virus is still with us. However, with our incredible vaccine rollout and the treatments available to those who are hospitalised with COVID-19, the link between cases, hospitalisations and deaths is being weakened. That means that we can start to learn to live with COVID-19 while still protecting the NHS from being overwhelmed.