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Mandatory mask-wearing is due to end in England on 19 July, the government has confirmed.

People will still be encouraged to use face coverings in crowded places, such as shops and on public transport to help stop the spread of Covid, but there will be no legal requirement or fines if they opt not to.

No date for doing the same in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland has been announced.

Why the change?

The scrapping of face masks does not mean Covid has gone away. New infections are increasing again in the UK, driven by the more contagious Delta variant.

But with many people now vaccinated against the virus, it should mean fewer of those who catch Covid will become ill enough to need hospital care compared to previous waves, say experts.

PM Boris Johnson says it is time to "learn to live with the virus" and the majority of remaining Covid restrictions in England, including rules around masks, can be lifted.

Wearing one will become a personal choice, at least in England.

Does everyone agree?

No. The doctors' union the British Medical Association says it makes no sense to stop wearing face coverings in enclosed public spaces.

Unions representing public transport and shop workers have said their staff face even more risk of infection if face mask rules are dropped and people are instead asked to exercise their own judgement.

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said he would continue to wear a mask in crowded indoor spaces or "as a point of common courtesy".

How will scrapping face masks affect travel?

Wearing a mask or face covering on public transport is currently a legal requirement.

Even after the law is changed, transport providers may still put in place their own rules for passengers.

Ryanair has said face masks will remain mandatory on its flights "in order to protect the health of our passengers and crew".

The body that represents train companies has said train operators will "support" passengers who decide to wear face coverings.

image copyrightGetty ImagesWhat is the evidence for scrapping them?

The Social Distancing Review is one of four different UK Government studies into how Covid-19 should be handled from "summer onwards".

Mask-use has also been considered by the other three reviews looking at:

  • the introduction of so-called vaccine passports
  • public event safety (also considering number limits at weddings and other life events)
  • non-essential international travel

Why use a face covering?

Face coverings worn over the nose and mouth reduce the spread of coronavirus droplets from coughs, sneezes and speaking.

The main purpose is to protect others from Covid, rather than yourself. If everyone wears one, the risks drop for all.

Masks can help to reduce virus spread from people who may be contagious but have no symptoms.

There is some evidence they offer protection to wearers, but are not a replacement for social distancing and hand-washing.

Cutting virus transmission is important because many people are still not yet fully vaccinated.

Also, some new virus variants appear more transmissible than earlier Covid strains.

What sort of face covering is best?

Make sure it:

  • has a nose wire
  • has at least two/three layers of material
  • fits snugly over mouth, nose and chin (tie knots in the ear loops of surgical masks if necessary)

The highest level of protection is provided by FFP3 (or similar) masks worn by healthcare workers in high risk settings.

Trained staff need to fit them correctly. They are worn in conjunction with other personal protective equipment (gloves, aprons, eye protection).

A recent study by Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust found FFP3 masks provided up to 100% protection against Covid.

Staff wearing standard issue surgical masks, as recommended in official guidance for most situations, were much more likely to catch the virus.

Members of the public can buy FFP3 masks, but they won't provide the highest protection unless fitted correctly.

  • SOCIAL DISTANCING: What are the rules now?
  • SCHOOLS: What will happen if children catch coronavirus?
  • TESTING: What tests are available?