AS Covid restrictions are lifted across the North East, many businesses have seen little change in the attitude of shoppers and the wearing of masks.

With July 19 being known as ‘Freedom Day’, mask-wearing is no longer mandatory and the decision whether or not to wear one is down to the shopper. 

Although the streets were quieter than usual, some shoppers in Middlesbrough braved the heat to do some afternoon shopping. Masks were still worn by many, especially in indoor areas. 

Middlesbrough is currently a ‘hotspot’ for Covid with infections rising rapidly over the last week.

Many businesses welcomed the move to ditch masks, but many said they would continue as before with measures such as hand sanitiser and one-way systems in place.

The Northern Echo:

Johnny Carroll of Buckshees Military Surplus Supplies said: “I would say its fifty fifty for mask-wearing. 
“Yes, there’s fewer people wearing them than usual but more than expected. 
“We’re happy for people to wear masks and we will keep our safety signs up and one-way system.
“I’m still going to ask people to keep their distance while shopping, and when it comes to serving people, like fitting boots for people, we will wear a mask.
“We are glad that its down to their discretion as we, like many shops, got a lot of abuse from people who refused to wear a mask and they would get aggressive when told to put it on.”

The Northern Echo:

Colin McKenzie of C.A.M Family Meats LTD said: “There’s not been much of a change, there’s a lot of people still wearing them.
“There’s certain shops that if you go in without a mask you get a lot of stares.
“We’ve just got to put up with Covid now, the death rate is low, there’s probably more people dying of heart attacks now.
“We just hope it brings people back to the shops, it’s been very quiet over the last few weeks and independent businesses are suffering because of it.”

Shopper Kane Bowers said: “It’s a tricky one, I’m glad it's each to their own, but with the infection rate is it the right thing to do. 
“I think a lot of people are relieved not to wear them, especially in this heat.
“I think people will be split on whether we should wear them or not for a long time to come.”

The Northern Echo:

Nicole Bean of Alta Ego said: “Nothing much has changed. 
“Those who aren’t wearing masks now are the ones who have never worn them, or at least haven’t been wearing them for the last few weeks.
“Those who are wearing them right now are the ones who have always worn them, and I think they will continue to wear them.
“There’s definitely a difference in the ages, with older people wearing them more than younger people.
“I know Middlesbrough is a hotspot for Covid so I don’t think I will be dropping my mask anytime soon.”

Lucy Martin-Hill from Leo Libra pet products said: “There has been little change but one thing I have noticed is that shoppers seem a lot more positive. 
“People seem happier, as if we are back to normality now, which is great to see.
“I think it will get busier as people slowly get back to shopping and hopefully people will come in larger groups and maybe people from out of town will come back.”

Shopper Safurah Hussain said: “Even though mask-wearing is no longer compulsory, I still feel safe and confident which is a great thing.”

The Northern Echo:

Jack Thornton of The Chuckling Cheese Company said: “There’s not been much noticeable change, except shoppers seem a lot happier today.
“I have said to my staff that we should treat masks as part of our uniform now, but we are not going to ask customers to wear them.
“If the customer asks us, or any member of staff to put on a mask we will always have one on hand to put on.
“The shop gets too full we will ask shoppers to queue, and wear masks in the shop, just to make sure both customers and staff are safe.
“There’s more people wearing them than I thought there would be, but I think it will get fewer and fewer as time goes on.”


In North Yorkshire, many communities and traders are split over the relaxing of restrictions.  In the market town of Bedale some shops are insisting people wear masks, while others left it up to individuals.

The Northern Echo:

At Sue’s Barber Shop in Bedale Market Place staff said customers were expected to wear face masks unless they were exempt.

They said: “The current infection rate in this area and the close contact nature of our work makes it very risky for us to ditch masks just yet. Also, the guidance states that from August 16 double vaccinated people will no longer need to self isolate. This will be much safer for our business as a possible case now means a 10-day shop closure, we don’t want to invite trouble. From this date, we will consider ditching masks. We appreciate that this policy goes further than what is required by the Government but one certainty is that it is in the best interests of ourselves and our customers.”

The Northern Echo:

Mark Kettlewell of the nearby Food Weighhouse said: “We are recommending that people continue to wear masks. We will be wearing masks unless we are behind the screens. But if people come in and they really don’t want to wear a mask then we will accommodate them. I think it is a question of trying to make sure people are comfortable. It’s a changing situation, and we want to try and ensure we do what is best for everybody.”

At the Coop supermarket many staff were not wearing masks, the company have left it up to individuals, many customers were continuing to wear them.

One staff member said: “It is really hard if you are working a seven and a half hour shift and you have to wear a mask for most of that time, it has been sweltering over the past few days. So it is better to be able to take it off, some people have mentioned it, I think it has to be an individual choice, I have been ensuring a good distance from people.”

At Masham, the Black Sheep Visitor centre has been closed for a week because staff had had to self isolate, staff are being told they will be expected to wear masks when they return.

Charlene Lyons, chief executive of Black Sheep Brewery, said: “With a number of staff having to self-isolate it was necessary to temporarily close our visitors centre.  We are reopening on Wednesday 21st July and we are very much looking forward to welcoming back our customers.”