'Common sense' or 'complacency'? - Norfolk MPs on mask scrapping

There have now been more than 50,000 deaths in the UK linked to coronavirus. Picture: Denise Bradley

There have now been more than 50,000 deaths in the UK linked to coronavirus. Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020

MPs across Norfolk have been reacting to the prime minister's decision to scrap the mandatory wearing of face masks.

At a press conference on Monday (July 5), Boris Johnson promised to tear up England's coronavirus regulations at the next stage of the road map on July 19.

The legal requirement to wear a face covering will be lifted, although guidance will suggest people might choose to do so in "enclosed and crowded places".

Duncan Baker, Conservative MP for North Norfolk, said that the Prime Minister's announcement was "a good step forward" but that the "personal responsibility approach...would cause some concern in [his] constituency".

He said: "The vaccine has broken the link between infection and hospitalisation. The government can reassure people by being clear where it considers masks should still be worn and in what close proximity settings, such as public transport and in supermarkets.

duncan baker

Duncan Baker, MP for North Norfolk. - Credit: Duncan Baker

"Allowing a personal responsibility approach without the clarity will cause some concern, particularly in my constituency, where regardless of being vaccinated, many will still find those first steps back to normality quite daunting.

"Caution as we unlock has always been the government’s favoured position and the Prime Minister has still intimated this, notwithstanding reducing many of our restrictions with these announcements," Mr Baker added.

George Freeman, Conservative MP for Mid Norfolk, said: "The success of the UK vaccination programme means we can start to return on July 19 to something like normality.

Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman. Picture: Archant

Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman. Picture: Archant - Credit: Ian Burt

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"But unless and until we are rid of Covid entirely - which looks very unlikely - we need to learn to live with this virus, which let's not forget has killed 120,000 of our fellow citizens in the last year, by keeping it under control.

"That means using common sense to prevent being a spreader, being aware of high risk places like the underground, nightclubs, care homes, hospitals and busy shopping malls in the winter, and masking and testing regularly if you use them.

"But not if you’re outside or in low risk indoor environments. It’s not complicated, it’s common sense," Mr Freeman said.

Norwich South MP Clive Lewis. Pic: Yui Mok/PA Images

Norwich South MP Clive Lewis. Pic: Yui Mok/PA Images - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Clive Lewis, Labour MP for Norwich South, said: "There isn't yet a clear scientific consensus about the extent to which it is safe to 'unlock' now. Only today, we heard the rate of infection in Norfolk is climbing rapidly. So I'm concerned that the government may be on the verge of jumping the gun for the third time in a row.

"Of course, what's different this time is that mass-scale vaccinations have significantly reduced the chances of both transmission and hospitalisation. But dodging just those two factors isn't sufficient to outwit this virus.

"This government is far too complacent about letting Covid levels in the community continue to soar again.

"We run a massive risk of unjabbed younger people being hit with the horribly debilitating effects of long Covid.  

"Widespread infection has several times already lead to ever-more difficult to deal with mutations. And vaccination doesn't even stop all transmission in the first place," Mr Lewis added.

Broadland Conservative MP Jerome Mayhew. Picture: Danielle Booden

Broadland Conservative MP Jerome Mayhew. Picture: Danielle Booden - Credit: Danielle Booden

Broadland MP and Conservative Jerome Mayhew said it's a "common sense approach" and that if he was in an environment with people who were uncomfortable without face masks, he would be happy to wear one.

His fellow Conservative Party member Chloe Smith, MP for North Norwich, said: "Because the vaccination programme has been so successful, it is the right time to make the shift from face masks being the law to being a matter of common sense. 

"People in Norwich have worked so hard through the pandemic and under the law until now, and I'm confident that people will decide sensibly for themselves from July 19."

She said that there may be times after that date she would use a mask.

"Having recently had chemotherapy, I understand very well that there are situations where some people might want to take extra care," she added.