Only one British adult in 20 is no longer wearing a mask outside their homes despite the relaxing of legal mask-wearing requirements earlier this month, according to the first official survey on complying with Covid measures since “Freedom Day”.
The number of adults claiming they wore face coverings when outside their home remained at 95%, the same as the week before the mandate was lifted, figures showed. A high proportion of adults still felt that complying with Covid safety measures was either important or very important – such as wearing a face covering while shopping (89% this past week, 90% the week before) and socially distancing from those not in their household (88% this past week, 89% the week before).
The data, which encompasses the days between 21 and 25 July, comes from a survey of 3,784 adults from Great Britain by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). On 19 July, most restrictions in England were lifted, and mask wearing ceased to be compulsory.
In addition, 69% of respondents said they saw everyone or almost everyone wearing face coverings while shopping in the last seven days. Those saying they always or often maintained social distancing fell slightly, from 63% last week to 61%, the report said.
Despite the unlocking earlier this month, Boris Johnson says he expects masks to be worn in crowded places. They also remain mandatory on London transport and some services around the country. Hospitals, GPs and other health providers can also still require patients and visitors to wear masks, unless they are exempt. As of 19 July, social distancing rules have also ended.
Overall, the findings were broadly in line with responses collected the week before the reopening. Prof Stephen Reicher, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) subcommittee on behavioural science, said the latest ONS data confirmed previous polling.
“Most people felt that the removal of protections on 19 July was too fast and that they would continue to wear masks and spatially distance. It confirms what has been clear throughout the pandemic – that the public understood the dangers and acted accordingly; that the public were not the weak link in the pandemic response,” he said.
“In many ways what we are seeing is what we saw after the Cummings affair: that people adhere despite and not because of the government. So far so good. But the problem is that people can only protect themselves so much. They need information and support from the government as well. So, even if you want to ensure that you keep to safe environments, how can you do that if the environments are not made safe (well-ventilated, with proper distancing measures in place etc.)? For people to play their part (and they are trying), the government need to play theirs. And that isn’t happening.”