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‘He’s thrown vulnerable people under a bus’: Dismay from campaigners as face masks scrapped

A cheer erupted in the Commons as the prime minister announced mask wearing would become a personal choice from next week.

Equality campaigners have called the government’s decision to end the mandatory wearing of face masks in indoor spaces “reckless” and “politically motivated”.

Boris Johnson announced in the House of Commons on Wednesday that all Plan B restrictions will be scrapped from Thursday next week, including compulsory mask-wearing on public transport and in shops, advice to work from home where possible and vaccine certificates. Compulsory self-isolation for people with Covid will also end on March 24.

But people with long-term illnesses and disabilities are asking the government to reconsider rolling back some of the protective measures, fearing that without a mask mandate they will be unsafe in public places. 

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“Throughout Covid-19 disabled people and their families have been forgotten and ONS data shows that six out of 10 people who have died from Covid in 2020 were disabled,” Richard Kramer, chief executive of national disability charity Sense told The Big Issue.

“We also know that many disabled people are still shielding at home and do not feel safe to go out. It’s now vital that as we move out of the pandemic, we don’t leave disabled people in lockdown by the decisions we make.”

The announcement came after an explosive Prime Minister’s Questions dominated by calls from both parties for Johnson to resign. “‘In the name of God, go” former Brexit secretary David Davis told the PM. 

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Unions have also criticised the government for abandoning the safety measures too soon, warning that progress could quickly be undone.

“Rather than allowing a free-for-all, ministers should be urging caution and encouraging ​continued mask-wearing on transport, in public places and in schools, where it c​an still make a real difference,” said Christina McAnea, general secretary of union Unison. 

“Face coverings have been proven to reduce the spread of Covid,” agreed Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trade Unions Congress.   

“Making them optional on public transport and in shops at this stage in the pandemic is premature and will put workers at risk.”

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In his speech in the House of Commons, the prime minister said the UK would “return to Plan A and allow Plan B regulations to expire from the start of Thursday next week.”

“Removing the mask mandate is absolutely reckless, politically (not public health) motivated and comes right when the booster is wearing off for the most vulnerable (with no plans to offer a 4th vaccine),” tweeted LGBTQ+ and equalities campaigner Jack Duncan.

Calling the move an “attempt to please rowdy backbenchers and save his beleaguered premiership“, podcaster Jamie Wareham wrote: “People who wear masks protect vulnerable people like me from dying from a cruel virus.”

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and transport union the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association have called for mask wearing to remain compulsory on all Transport for London services. 

“We know that face coverings help reduce transmission of the virus and will give the public confidence on public transport. It’s vital our brave transport members who have been on the frontline of this pandemic continue to feel they are protected,” said Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA.

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