Boris Johnson has said face masks will be a matter of “personal choice” after that date, but some companies have said they will continue to ask people to wear coverings.
Some airlines have said masks will still be compulsory and the World Health Organisation still advises masks continuing to be mandatory on public transport, in shops and in crowded places.
It comes amid a growing row with the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan who has urged the government to retain the mandatory requirement for coverings to be worn on public transport. Meanwhile, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham appeared to agree saying the change could cause “real problems”.
Mr Kwarteng told Sky News: “I’ve always said that I believe in individual responsibility. I think businesses have their own discretion – their own judgement.
“Personally, I use the Tube a lot in London and I would probably use them – wear a mask – in that context in the Tube in public transport. That’s a personal view. It’s not something that I would mandate or necessarily dictate to other people.”
Asked if he was happy for businesses, airlines and hospitality to continue to require face mask use on their premises, he replied: “Yes, I mean, actually before Covid It was very interesting that businesses always had the ability to prescribe certain health or…they’ve always had that. And I think we’re going back to that situation, people have forgotten that actually businesses did have some discretion in terms of what people could wear…”
Meanwhile, Sir Paul Nurse, director of the Francis Crick Institute, said it made no sense not to insist on the wearing of masks in crowded situations.
“We need sensible, well thought out, good plans. Of course we have to make the most of the summer but it doesn’t mean we have to open the door wide open.”
Sir Paul said he also believes coronavirus testing must continue and there should be a focus on creating a safe work environment.
“Letting the virus spread in these circumstances encourages a new variant arising in the UK itself. We could create a variant resistant to the vaccine.”
Unite union has said that dropping mask-wearing on public transport would be “gross negligence”.
Professor Laurence Lovat, epidemiologist and clinical director at WEISS Centre at UCL, questioned the decision to make masks optional.
He told Sky News: “I do wonder whether it’s a wise thing to be doing.”
“There is no doubt that face masks have an enormous impact on the transmission of droplets – these tiny aerosols that sort of float around in the air.
“And one thing we really don’t want to be doing is to have a major spike of patients coming into hospitals again just as hospitals are starting to settle down and get back to routine work
“And face masks are a really simple way to prevent people from transmitting disease to others.”
Asked where and when he would continue to wear a mask, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a Downing Street press conference: “It will depend on the circumstances. Clearly there’s a big difference between travelling on a crowded Tube train and sitting late at night in a virtually empty carriage on the main railway line.
“We want people to exercise their personal responsibility but remember the value of face coverings both in protecting themselves and others.”