Sir Keir Starmer has said mask wearing should continue as he accused Boris Johnson of being “reckless” by planning to remove all remaining coronavirus restrictions simultaneously.
The Labour leader told the Prime Minister he should not end the mandate for wearing face coverings in “enclosed places and on public transport”.
Mr Johnson set out his plans on Monday for all legal limits to control the spread of Covid-19 to end at Step 4 of his plans to end England’s lockdown, which is expected to come on July 19.
He said he will end the laws making mask wearing compulsory in places such as shops and public transport as he urged people to instead “exercise their personal responsibility”.
Sir Keir noted the rapidly rising infection rates as he issued perhaps his most critical response to Mr Johnson’s coronavirus plans yet.
“To throw off all protections at the same time when the infection rate is still going up is reckless,” the Labour leader told reporters following Mr Johnson’s press conference.
“We need a balanced approach, we need to keep key protections in place, including masks, including ventilation and crucially, something we’ve been asking for through the pandemic, proper payments to those who need to self-isolate.”
Sir Keir may have public opinion on his side as well, with a YouGov survey of 2,749 British adults indicating that 71% of the public want masks to remain compulsory on public transport and in shops beyond this month.
Mask wearing is likely to be a key point of conflict between Mr Johnson and his critics in the coming weeks.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan is considering possibly instructing people using the capital’s public transport network to consider wearing masks.
“The wearing of face coverings on public transport helps to reduce the spread of Covid, and crucially gives Londoners confidence to travel on the network, which is vital to our economic recovery,” the senior Labour politician said.
“Further discussions are now planned with Transport for London, the Department for Transport and other transport providers before we decide our next steps.”
The Unite trade union representing tens of thousands of public transport workers said it would be “an act of gross negligence by the Government” to end the requirement to wear face coverings on public transport in two weeks.