Jenrick denies face mask rules ‘shambles’ as lockdown restrictions lift
By Gavin Cordon and Sam Blewett, PA
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has denied the Government’s Covid rules have become a “total shambles” as ministers prepare to end lockdown restrictions in England.
The latest Government guidance says shoppers will still be expected to wear face masks and table service should continue in pubs and bars, even though it will no longer be a statutory requirement from Monday.
The move has been widely criticised by both trade unions and employers, with ministers accused of sending out “mixed messages” while giving businesses little time to prepare the new regime.
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford has said the UK Government is an “outlier” and that it would be better if England followed Scotland and Wales in continuing to make masks compulsory.
But Mr Jenrick insisted that as the vaccine rollout continues it is right to allow individuals and businesses to make their own judgments about what precautions to take.
Asked on ITV’s Good Morning Britain if the policy has become a “total shambles”, he replied: “No, I don’t accept that.
“As a result of the vaccine rollout we are able to move into a new phase and that’s one where we all exercise our own personal judgment.
“But also businesses and those people who are operating public transport networks, for example, will also make judgments about what is right for their settings. I think that is a sensible way forward.”
The latest guidance, issued on Wednesday, says the Government “expects and recommends” masks to be worn by workers and customers in crowded, enclosed spaces as the work-from-home order ends.
Table service is recommended to continue in bars, while pubs, restaurants and nightclubs are encouraged to check vaccine and testing status as a condition of entry through the NHS Covid Pass.
Police officers will still wear face masks after Monday, the National Police Chiefs’ Council has said.
Supermarket giant Sainsbury’s said it will encourage customers to continue wearing masks, while the Labour metro mayors for West Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, North of Tyne, West of England and South Yorkshire said they will require mask use on public transport networks where their limited powers allow it.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has said he will use his greater powers to enforce the wearing of masks on the capital’s transport network as a “condition of carriage”.
The TUC has said the Government’s guidance is a “recipe for chaos and rising infections”, while the shop workers union Usdaw said it is a “real mess” offering no assurances for staff or customers.
Dr Roger Barker, policy director at the Institute of Directors, said firms are “understandably confused” by the Government’s “mixed messages and patchwork requirements”.
Mr Drakeford said it is “difficult” for people in England to know exactly what is required of them and he urged the Government at Westminster to stick to a four-nation approach.
“It is the UK Government that is the outlier and if they were prepared to bring themselves into line with the decisions that have been made in Scotland and in Wales, for example, that would be clearer and simpler for everybody,” he told Good Morning Britain.
Meanwhile, Mr Jenrick said the Government is “concerned” about the number of people off work as a result of being “pinged” by the NHS Covid app, with some companies reportedly missing 20% of their staff.
He told LBC radio: “It is important that we have the app, that we take it seriously, that when we do get those messages we act accordingly. But we are going to give further thought to how we can ensure it is a proportionate response.”