BORIS Johnson triggered a furious row tonight by making mask wearing voluntary.
The PM angered union leaders, Labour mayors and medics by saying it would be OK to go without a face covering in public indoor spaces from July 19.
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He insisted it was time to “move away from legal restrictions” and again “allow people to make their own informed decisions”.
Mr Johnson told tonight’s No10 briefing: “What we want to do is for people to exercise their personal responsibility, but to remember the value of face coverings both in protecting themselves and others.”
He said he would still mask up in crowded places “as a matter of simple courtesy”.
But the announcement was slammed by the British Medical Association, and Labour mayors Sadiq Khan and Andy Burnham.
The Government’s own senior medical advisers also said there was still a strong case for mask-wearing.
Flanking the PM at the No10 conference, Prof Chris Whitty said he would wear a covering if he was in a crowded place indoors.
He would also put one on if asked or if he was making someone feel uncomfortable by not wearing one.
A snap poll by YouGov found that 71 per cent of Brits think masks should continue to be compulsory on public transport.
And 66 per cent said they should still be a legal requirement in shops.
BMA chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: “It makes no sense to stop wearing face masks in enclosed public settings such as public transport.
“We know face masks are proven to reduce the spread of this infection.
“At a time where we have exceptional high levels of cases we can’t understand why we would knowingly want people to become infected.”
'WE ARE NOT BACK TO NORMALITY'
Manchester mayor Mr Burnham fumed: “We are not back to normality. We are in the middle of a pandemic.
“Where we need to, let’s keep in place some of those requirements.”
Airline bosses will be allowed to set their own rules and Ryanair said they would still be mandatory on all its flights.
The PM said England must seize on the bumper jabs rollout, low death rates and warmer weather.
He said: “If we don’t go ahead now, when we have clearly done so much with the vaccination programme to break the link between infection and death, when would we go ahead?”
Mr Khan said keeping masks on public transport was “the simplest and safest option” and talks would be held.
But City Hall sources played down the prospect of London enforcing it, saying that would only cause confusion.
However, Unite union official Bobby Morton warned the move would cost lives and the PM would have blood on his hands.
The militant leader raged: “The rate of infection will go even higher. You will see more deaths because of this — it is an intolerable situation.
“It is about money. All I would like to say is when they get that money there may be blood on it.”
Gloomy scientist Prof Stephen Reicher, who advises the Government, said: “I think in certain spaces — crowded, badly ventilated spaces — masks are crucial mitigation.”
But some Tory MPs urged the PM to be bold and scrap all guidance on masks.
Huw Merriman, chairman of the transport select committee, said: “Face coverings should not be mandatory, and also should not have to be recommended as guidance. I think effectively that’s a bit of a cop-out.”
Professor Robert Dingwall, who sits on a sub-group of government advisers, also backed the Prime Minister.
He said: “The benefits of masks have always been uncertain because the quality of the evidence in both directions is so weak.”
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