Blackpool locals and tourists have their say on masks on ‘Freedom Day’

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‘Leave your masks on’ is the overwhelming view from Blackpool residents and holidaymakers in the resort as the legal requirement to do so was lifted in England today.

People generally said they wanted to continue wearing masks

People generally said they wanted to continue wearing masks

And a large number of those out and about on the Fylde coast were in agreement with continued recommendations to continue to wear face masks in public crowded areas and public transport, with the majority saying they would continue to carry a mask for the safety of themselves and others.

Grandmother Margaret Cutler from Fleetwood, making one of her first trips to the town centre since lockdown was imposed last year, said “without doubt” she would be wearing her mask when mingling in indoor areas.

“It just makes sense and I hope that quite a few people will also continue to do it when they’re in shops or travelling on public transport,” she said.

“We’ve all seen the rates are going up – I think it’s common sense, we do what we can to keep people safe.”

Nicola McKeown, 49, held a similar view and added the conflicting messaging from the Government was unhelpful, particularly in making more vulnerable people feel safe when out and about.

She said: “It should have a been a clear cut decision and I think that should have been they should remain mandatory going forward.

“I’m using the mask because it feels safer for me but I understand others feel differently  “Leaving the public to decide and do what they want – I think will make it more divisive. We all recognise we have to live with the virus but we all should continue to do what we can to reduce the spread too.”

Colin McDermott, 64, visiting with his family from Scotland, said he had felt comfortable travelling to the resort and was happy to still see many of the Covid protective measures in place in the accommodation and attractions.

He said: “For me, it makes me feel better to see people wearing them. It makes sense to carry on. We all need to continue doing our own bit.”

Business owner Colin Burbidge, 63, from Blackpool said public spaces remained a breeding ground for the virus and new variants were a cause for concern.

The wine school owner added: “It’s as much about the protection of others as it for yourself. We don’t know if we’re carrying the virus of not so to protect yourself on public transport seems a sensible approach.

“We know people are still catching it.”

Charlie MacKeath, 58, from Blackpool, said the issue over the wearing of face masks had been “mishandled” by the government.

“I’ve been travelling all the way through Covid in construction and all of a sudden with mishandled messaging about potentially getting rid of masks, 25 per cent of people are not wearing them on packed trains and that’s even before it’s gone.

“I’m going to continue wearing a mask after July 19 and it’s mainly about respecting others,” Mr MacKeath said.

Married couple Colin and Naomi Smith also supported the view that face masks remain an important part in the fight against the virus.

“We’ve made so much head way,” said 45-year-old facilities manager Colin, “I think this move is asking for trouble – it might be under control for now but we’ve not got rid of it.”

Naomi, 32, added: “We had a conversation together that we would still be wearing ours definitely. It’s a level of protection in enclosed spaces and visiting restaurants I’d still prefer to sit outside if I can.”

Robert Caddick, a Blackpool restaurant worker, said: “I don’t believe in the way the government have handled this at all – they wanted initially to lift all the restrictions in June with social distancing and that proved not to work so how can we believe it is right to do it now.

“At work I want it to be a safe environment for the customers but also for the staff too. I’m double vaccinated but I’ll still be keeping the mask on as we now know that even that doesn’t full stop you from getting it and passing on.”

Dawn Porter, 54, who is exempt from a mask owing to a medical condition said: “I registered early last year for my exemption because of the difficulties the mask gave me when I was out and about and people have been understanding.

“I support the wearing of the masks for those that can as it helps more vulnerable people feel safer when out and about.”

Health Secretary Sajid Javid told the Commons: “As we make these changes, it is so important that people act with caution and with personal responsibility.”

Almost two thirds of adults say they will continue wearing face coverings in shops and on public transport when this is no longer a legal requirement, figures have showed.

Some 64 per cent of the public said they plan to keep wearing face coverings following the removal of most legal restrictions in England today, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

Its poll found most adults believe that measures such as wearing a face covering when shopping (90 per cent) and social distancing (88 per cent) to stop the spread of coronavirus are important.

And more than half (57 per cent) of adults said they were worried about the Government’s plan to lift legal restrictions when it moves to Step four today, including a fifth who were “very worried”.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick denied the Government’s Covid rules have become a “total shambles” as ministers 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 today.

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 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 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 last Wednesday, said 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.

The TUC 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 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.”