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The mask divide: How people are split ahead of the final lockdown lifting

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Wearing a mask will no longer be a legal requirement in England from Monday – but the unlocking of this freedom has divided the public.

For some, it is a new-found freedom after months of having to cover up – for others, the relaxation comes too soon.

Sky News visited Bristol to speak to shoppers, businesses and commuters, who all have different opinions about ditching the mask from Monday.

Retail graphic tile for Sky News economics tracker

Shoppers

In the busy retail area of Broadmead, the majority of shoppers are wearing face coverings. They won’t need to next week – but most we spoke to don’t feel it’s the right time lose the mask.

“I think it’s far too soon. The infections are going up, the deaths are going up, it just seems like the wrong time altogether. I’m not happy about it at all to be honest.”

Rose Nelmes says she’ll definitely be keeping her mask on: “I’m thinking, even if I wear a mask and other people don’t, I’m protecting them but they’re not protecting me. I’m not happy about it at all.”

Rose Nelmes
Image: Rose Nelmes will be keeping her mask on when shopping

Her view is echoed by most shoppers I speak to, including Elizabeth Watson, shopping with her baby Forest.

“I will continue to do whatever protects the majority of the population, but it’s really divisive isn’t it, facemasks? People are just fed up.”

She thinks England is probably going too quickly: “Wales and Scotland are more sensible in their approach to continue wearing facemasks.”

Elizabeth Watson
Image: Elizabeth Watson says people are fed up, but she will keep her mask on

Jason Lloyd says he’ll continue to wear a mask in shops – but is looking forward to removing it in certain places.

“I think we’ve got to live with the virus and I think we’ve got to make our own decisions based on our own feelings…we’ve got to start moving on with it.

“The only change I’ll make is in the pub, I’m looking forward to being able to go up to the bar and asking for a pint.

“Table service is great but it’s a British tradition to stand at the bar and have a pint with your friends.”

Manufacturing graphic for Sky News economics tracker

Businesses

With no law forcing people to wear masks, government has handed businesses the responsibility.

At Central Salon hairdressers, manager Jayne Wright says there will be no change; all customers will have to continue wearing a face covering.

“I feel we’ve spent the last year making the salon COVID safe for our staff and clients and I think it’s paramount we still keep it safe,” she says.

“People aren’t ready to take that risk to come into a close contact service with no masks and screens.”

Central Salon hairdressers in Bristol
Image: Rules will remain in place at Central Salon hairdressers in Bristol

She says the salon ran a survey over the last three weeks, with 70% saying they wanted to keep masks on.

“We will be informing customers what the routine is. A mask is a very minimal thing to do to keep a lot of people safe, so I don’t think it’s a lot to ask. I can see this going on till at least after Christmas.”

One mile away, it’s a different story at the Avon Packet pub.

Landlord Steve Davis can’t wait to take the mask sign down on the front door.

“It’s obviously good news. I’m here to sell beer and make money,” he says.

Steve Ford
Image: Steve Davis will be welcoming drinkers back to ordering at the bar

“It’s a step forward. I’m elated. It gives everyone the fair opportunity to get back to normal living. Especially landlords, there are so many landlords in this town that haven’t got the facilities I’ve got. I’m lucky I’ve got a big garden. How do they manage? My heart goes out to them.

“Stand at the bar, have a drink and enjoy yourself. Life’s about enjoyment, let’s get on and enjoy it.”

There have been very few COVID-19 outbreaks linked to public transport

Commuters

With Wales and Scotland keeping masks mandatory, there could be confusion for those travelling across borders.

Commuters between Bristol and Cardiff will legally have to cover up when they cross the border into Wales.

We spoke to Ryan Ford on the 8.37am service from Bristol Parkway.

Ryan Ford
Image: Ryan Ford will stop wearing his mask when the train is quiet

He travels on the train around Bristol every day – and told Sky News he’ll stop wearing a mask next week if the carriage is relatively empty.

“If it’s quiet like this, not many people, I’ll probably just take it off.”

“I normally get the earlier train and it’s a lot busier, sometimes there are people sat right opposite me so at times like that I’ll probably keep it on.”

But for passenger Charlie Foyle, COVID-19 has changed his thinking for the long-term.

“It’s all a confidence thing – as soon as I feel confident that things are safer, I will take it off. But it’s funny what this pandemic’s done – it’s got into your brain,” he says.

Charlie Foyle
Image: Charlie Foyle says his confidence in travel has been knocked

For the most part, it seems people will use common sense and continue to wear a mask in crowded places – exactly what the government hopes will happen.

Whether it runs that smoothly in shops, pubs and on the busses once Monday arrives, is another question entirely.