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UK Covid news: minister suggests rail firms could enforce mask wearing after 19 July in England

Good morning. Boris Johnson is holding a press conference this afternoon where he is expected to confirm that England will go ahead with the removal for most remaining Covid restrictions next Monday (on 19 July). It will be the formal rubber-stamping of a decision effectively taken and announced last week. But over the last seven days ministers have become increasingly alarmed by the rise in coronavirus cases and, as Peter Walker and Ian Sample report in their overnight story, Johnson will adopt a rather different tone, putting even more stress on the need for caution.

This may be most evident in what Johnson has to say about the importance of wearing face coverings, particularly on public transport. Last week, in his press conference statement, Johnson said the government wanted to stop forcing people to obey rules on these matters; instead it would rely on people to exercise their judgment, although he said it would offer guidance. The government is not performing a U-turn, and won’t keep face coverings mandatory, but does seem to be tilting back in that direction. In interviews this morning Edward Argar, the health minister, stressed that the advice issued by the government would amount to “strong guidance”. And he implied that ministers would be happy for rail companies to insist on passengers wearing masks. He told the Today programme:

Train companies may well look, as conditions of carriage, whether they want to impose additional guidance or additional restrictions. But, at a governmental level, what we’ll be looking to do is see the legal requirements fall away, but for guidance, strong guidance and cautious guidance, to be in place for people to exercise their common sense.

Only last week Johnson told the Downing Street press conference, that while he would wear a mask after 19 July on a crowded train, he would not if it were empty, and other ministers have gone even further in downplaying the need to wear a mask. This morning Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the government’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M), said the mixed messages were confusing for the public. He said:

Some ministers have come out and said they’ll be very happy not to wear their face masks and then we’ve had others, even in the last couple of days, saying ‘we would still advise you to wear them in these settings’.

I think it’s quite confusing actually for people to know what the right thing to do is. I think all that we can do is take a sort of appropriate approach where we look at the situation and sort of weigh up the risk ourselves, and I hope that enough people do that going forward that we don’t see a big surge.

Here is the agenda for the day.

12.30pm: Eluned Morgan, the Welsh government’s health minister, and Dr Gillian Richardson, deputy chief medical officer for Wales, hold a press conference.

1pm: Downing Street holds its daily lobby briefing.

2.30pm: Priti Patel, the home secretary, takes questions in the Commons.

5pm: Boris Johnson is expected to hold a press conference where he will confirm that most remaining Covid restrictions will be lifted in England from 19 July. At the same time Sajid Javid, the health secretary, is expected to make the same announcement in the Commons.

Politics Live has been a mix of Covid and non-Covid news recently and that will probably be the case today. For more coronavirus developments, do follow our global Covid live blog.

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