As England nears the end of its coronavirus restrictions, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that face masks will become a matter of “personal responsibility.” Despite the legal requirement lifting, businesses can continue to insist that customers wear a face mask and refuse service to those who do not comply with this directive. The latest research at Redfield & Wilton Strategies asked the British public how likely it is they will continue to wear a mask, how comfortable they would be around those who do not, and if they would support or oppose businesses refusing service to mask-less customers.
29% of respondents say they will sometimes wear a mask in public following the lifting of coronavirus restrictions on 19 July, and 28% say they will wear one most of the time. Alternatively, 19% of respondents say they will always wear a mask, 11% will rarely wear one, and 10% say they will never wear a mask when out in public.
Whilst the intention to continue wearing a mask is high across all age groups, age appears to be an indicator of the extent of this intent: majorities of 18-to-24-year-olds (52%) and 25-to-34-year-olds (54%) say they will continue to wear a mask always or most of the time. By contrast, 39% of those aged 55 to 64 and 38% of those aged 65 and over say they will continue to wear a mask always or most of the time, with these demographics recording a relatively high reluctance to continue wearing masks. In fact, a quarter of 55-to-64-year-olds (27%) and those aged 65 and over (26%) say they will rarely or never wear a mask in public after 19 July, perhaps reflective of generational differences in attitudes towards the virus or differences in vaccination rates.
We also observe a political division in the likelihood of respondents to continue wearing a mask after 19 July. A clear majority of 2019 Labour voters (60%) say they will wear a mask always or most of the time, compared to 37% of 2019 Conservative voters. Further, only 14% of Labour voters say they will never or rarely wear a mask when out in public, whereas 27% of Conservative voters say the same. These results may, in part, be explained by the average age of each party’s voters.
Of those who say they will always or mostly wear a mask in public after 19 July, 69% say that those who rarely or never wear a mask are overly reckless, while 24% think that such individuals are exercising a legitimate personal choice. By contrast, of those who say they will rarely or never wear a mask, 68% think that those who will wear a mask are exercising a legitimate personal choice, with 25% believing they are overly cautious, demonstrating substantially varying views between the two groups.
When asked exactly where it is likely they will wear a mask after restrictions have been lifted, a majority of the British public think it is likely that they will continue to wear a mask on public transport (72%), in shops (67%), in entertainment venues such as theatres and cinemas (62%), in pubs and restaurants (54%), and—of those working—their workplace (52%). However, a majority of 61% think it is unlikely that they will wear a mask in outdoor spaces such as parks and on the street. At the same time, it is worth noting that respondents’ current intent to continue to wear a mask in indoor spaces does not necessarily mean that all respondents will indeed continue to do so in practice. It is plausible that respondents may stop doing so when mask wearing is no longer legally required, or they see others stop wearing their masks.
Although younger respondents are the most likely to say they will wear a mask always or most of the time when in public after 19 July, when asked about specific locations, 18-to-24-year-olds are generally the most prone to saying it is unlikely they will wear a mask in indoor spaces. In fact, a majority (51%) of 18-to-24-year-olds say it is unlikely that they will wear a mask in pubs or restaurants after 19 July. However, with regard to outdoor spaces, these trends are somewhat reversed: significant majorities of those aged 55 to 64 (72%) and 65 and over (72%) say it is unlikely that they will wear a mask outdoors, compared to 53% of 18-to-24-year-olds.
Finally, a majority (64%) of Britons say they would support businesses refusing entry to people who are not wearing a mask, compared to 16% who would oppose such a practice, and 18% who would neither support nor oppose it. This support for businesses’ right to refuse service to the mask-less is shared by significant majorities of both 2019 Conservative voters (64%) and Labour voters (70%).
Whilst majorities of all age groups would support this measure, the level of support also increases with age. Significant majorities of those aged 55 to 64 (69%) and 65 and over (66%) would support businesses denying entry to those without masks, with the plurality response (36%) among 55-to-64-year-olds being that they would strongly support it. Conversely, opposition to businesses denying entry to those not wearing masks is highest amongst 18-to-24-year-olds, with 20% saying they would oppose such an action.
Britons’ support for businesses refusing entry to those not wearing a mask may be related to the fact that a plurality (45%) say they would feel uncomfortable being in indoor spaces with people not wearing masks and thus may not want to shop around such individuals. That being said, 37% conversely say they would feel comfortable, and 16% would feel neither comfortable nor uncomfortable.
Overall, despite the imminent lifting of coronavirus restrictions, much of the British public does not intend to stop wearing their face masks altogether. With a plurality of Britons saying they would feel uncomfortable indoors with others not wearing masks and intend to continue wearing their mask always or most of the time, it seems that mask-wearing will continue to be a part of daily life in Britain for many.