With Germany, Italy and Spain mandating masks indoors, and with scientific opinion coalescing around their efficacy, Mr. Johnson shifted course last summer. By then, Britain had recorded more than 50,000 deaths from the virus, a cataclysm that critics blamed at least in part on the government’s sluggishness in acting.
A final decision will be made next week but, under the plans Mr. Johnson presented on Monday, rules requiring the wearing of masks in England would be lifted on July 19, with decisions left to individuals. Government guidance would suggest that people might do so in confined and crowded places. Travel companies and businesses would be permitted to set their own rules on masks.
Regardless, the planned relaxation would lift almost all legal Covid restrictions for England. That would allow nightclubs to reopen and remove curbs on numbers of people in theaters and cinemas and at live events. The rule limiting the numbers of those meeting inside homes to six people, or two households, would end, as would the requirement that pubs only serve people who are seated.
Customers would no longer be required to leave their contact details when entering pubs and restaurants, the current one-meter distancing rule would be scrapped and the government’s appeal to people to work from home would end. The gap between vaccination shots for those 40 and younger would be shortened to eight weeks, allowing the rollout of vaccines to be stepped up.
When Mr. Johnson was asked whether he would wear a mask, he said, “it would depend on the circumstances,” before clarifying later that he would wear one on a crowded train. But he added, “we’re trying to move away from government diktat to relying on people’s personal responsibility.”
Mr. Whitty, the chief medical officer, said he would continue to wear a mask in confined spaces if he was required to do so by authorities, or if his lack of a mask made people around him uncomfortable.