London has the lowest coronavirus case rate in the country, figures show, despite Sadiq Khan’s insistence that omicron still poses a significant threat to the capital.
The London mayor has said that face masks will remain mandatory on the London Underground and buses when Plan B measures end on Thursday, and has called on the Government to keep them in shops and indoor venues.
However, latest available figures show that seven-day case rates in the city were 850 per 100,000 on January 21 and had fallen nearly six per cent in the past week.
In contrast, the rest of the regions are seeing case rates between 926 and 1,258 per 100,000.
Business owners said that the requirement to wear masks on the Tube and buses was creating an atmosphere of fear that was putting people off from returning to London as normal.
Masks send ‘psychological message’ to be fearful
Hugh Osmond, who founded the Punch Taverns group and has invested in a number of the capital’s restaurants, said: “Being told to wear masks on tubes and buses creates a psychological message that people should still be fearful and not go back to work and not travel into the capital.
“It’s a signal for people to be worried, which has a tremendously damaging impact on the economy and specifically the hospitality sector. It’s a destructive message which keeps people away from what they would normally do, such as visiting pubs and restaurants, and other activities. That’s not only economically damaging, but also to their mental health and wellbeing.”
Fellow entrepreneur Luke Johnson, the former chairman of Pizza Express and Channel 4 who now runs a number of restaurants, cafes and hospitality venues, said mask-wearing rules were preventing people from resuming their normal lives.
He said: “It’s taking a lot of people a long time to shrug off their concerns about travelling and going out and mask-wearing continues the narrative of fear at a time when in fact omicron rates are plummeting in the capital and it’s a far less serious threat.
“Mask-wearing perpetuates the fear and acts as a constant reminder of disease and danger, which is very unhelpful for anyone running a business.
“Most businesses want people to go back to the office for most of the time and mask-wearing doesn’t help that at all. It is stopping people from resuming their lives as normal and that is what we have to do.”
Latest infection data from the Office for National Statistics shows that the virus is decreasing everywhere in Britain apart from Northern Ireland. The only age groups still seeing rises are children, which has coincided with the return of schools.
The Government is still advising that people wear masks in crowded and enclosed spaces where they come into contact with strangers, although it is no longer a legal requirement.