FACE masks and Covid passes are no longer legally required in England following the relaxation of coronavirus Plan B rules which came into effect on Thursday.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said that this guidance is being scrapped because of the success of the vaccine rollout and a better understanding of Covid treatments.

With that in mind, The Northern Echo headed into Darlington town centre to see what shoppers and businesses think about the changes.

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One woman we spoke to on High Row, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “It doesn’t make any difference to me. I’ve never worn a mask. I’ve never believed in this pandemic anyway.”

The Northern Echo: High Row, Darlington. Picture: AJA DODDHigh Row, Darlington. Picture: AJA DODD

A man on Skinnergate, who didn't want to give his name, said: “I think it’s a bit silly to tell people to stop wearing masks now, we’re not out the woods yet so I’ll keep wearing mine.”

The Northern Echo: Skinnergate, Darlington. Picture: AJA DODDSkinnergate, Darlington. Picture: AJA DODD

As the focus moves away from legal measures, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman, when asked about masks, said it will now be “a matter of personal judgment”.

Public health guidance urging people to wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces if coming into contact strangers will remain in place, the Government said.

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One woman called Lisa on Bondgate said: “I think we’ve had mixed messaging from the start but I’ll keep wearing my mask especially in places like doctors surgeries and on buses and trains. At the end of the day, I don't want to get ill.”

The Northern Echo: Bondgate, Darlington. Picture: AJA DODDBondgate, Darlington. Picture: AJA DODD


Another man called John on Post House Wynd said: “I don’t like wearing a mask. I find it uncomfortable so I’m glad they’ve scrapped it.”

The Northern Echo: Post House Wynd, Darlington. Picture: AJA DODDPost House Wynd, Darlington. Picture: AJA DODD

Kris Eland

Kris, manager of Echo 3 Coffee House & Roastery, said: “This is actually the first day I’m not wearing mine. I’ll definitely be wearing a mask when I’m going in shops or on public transport. Wearing glasses with a mask has been a bit of a challenge and I don’t like wearing contacts.”

The Northern Echo: Kris Eland, manager of Echo 3 Coffee House & Roastery. Picture: AJA DODDKris Eland, manager of Echo 3 Coffee House & Roastery. Picture: AJA DODD

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Steve Allenby

Steve, who works at Bakerman, said: “I don’t like wearing a mask although I will keep wearing one because my brother’s girlfriend has just tested positive for Covid so it's probably best to be on the safe side.”

The Northern Echo: Steve Allenby, who works at Bakerman. Picture: AJA DODDSteve Allenby, who works at Bakerman. Picture: AJA DODD

Ian Hughes

Ian, manager of The Art Shop, said: “Most of our customers wear a mask off their own accord. We have signs up encouraging mask wearing as well and we also have hand sanitiser. I think it’s sensible to keep wearing masks because the cases are so high at the moment, it doesn’t make sense to take them off now.”

The Northern Echo: Ian Hughes, manager of The Art Shop. Picture: AJA DODDIan Hughes, manager of The Art Shop. Picture: AJA DODD

Claire Barnes

Claire, manager of The Cheese and Wine Shop, said: “Since before the Plan B measures in December, I had a sign outside encouraging people to wear masks in the shop. I’ve always encouraged customers to wear masks although I won’t turn customers away who don’t. My wife has bad asthma so I can’t risk taking Covid home to her. I’ve worn a mask throughout and will definitely keep wearing mine.”

The Northern Echo: Claire Barnes, manager of The Cheese & Wine Shop. Picture: AJA DODDClaire Barnes, manager of The Cheese & Wine Shop. Picture: AJA DODD

Mr Javid said: “Our vaccines, testing and antivirals ensure we have some of the strongest defences in Europe and are allowing us to cautiously return to plan A, restoring more freedoms to this country.

“As we learn to live with Covid, we need to be clear eyed that this virus is not going away so if you haven’t already – please come forward for your first, second or booster jab.”

While the scrapping of measures have been welcomed by some, others have urged people to “be considerate to those around them” when it comes to choosing to wear a face covering, and to “be respectful” of policies in certain settings.

Both Sainsbury’s and John Lewis said their customers will be asked to wear masks, though the latter acknowledged it will ultimately come down to “personal choice”.

The British Retail Consortium said the changes “will enable shopping to return to a more normal experience for customers, employees and businesses”.

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