In our latest GB-wide polling, more than a third (36%) of the British public say that they “always” wear a mask to cover their mouth and nose when they leave their home, including outdoors. Across nine polls conducted between September 2020 and January 2021, approximately a third (32% to 35%) have consistently said they “always” wear a mask when going outside, highlighting the stability of mask wearing habits in recent months despite the evolution of the coronavirus situation in Britain. However, before stabilising at this level, self-reported mask wearing was significantly lower in mid-July (prior to the mandating of masks in indoor spaces by the Government), when only 18% said they always wore a mask when they went outside their home.

Current lockdown rules permit exercise with one other person outdoors. Our polling has measured a sharp increase in the proportion of respondents who say they “always” wear a mask when they meet with a friend outside. Currently, 26% say they always wear a mask when they meet a friend, a similar proportion as a week ago (28%), and a fortnight ago (29%), but somewhat higher than in November (23%), the start of October (20%), and July (11%).

For many, a walk in the park has become one of the only forms of entertainment outside the house that is currently possible. However, less than a fifth (19%) of those polled on 25 January say they “always” wear a mask while walking in the park, a marginal increase since the second half of 2020. However, only 25% say they “never” wear a mask while walking in the park, compared to 30% to 43% in our polls last year, suggesting an increase in outdoors mask usage.

Turning to mask wearing habits in settings where face coverings are mandated by law, a strong plurality (45%) say they “always” wear a mask when they take public transport, while a further 6% wear one most of the time. Only 9% say they wear a face covering sometimes, rarely, or never on public transport. It should be highlighted that a significant proportion (37% to 46%) have consistently responded “not applicable” to this question, showcasing that many are not currently taking public transport. Compliance has improved significantly since 15 July––a month after masks were first mandated in this setting––when a significant proportion (23%) said they only wore a mask sometimes, rarely, or never.

Face coverings were made compulsory in shops and supermarkets from 24 July 2020, yet the Government has recently had to warn the public to comply with the rules. In mid-July, shortly prior to masks being mandated by law, only 29% said they “always” wore a face covering in supermarkets. The proportion who say they wear a mask all the time when visiting a supermarket rose sharply by late September (71%) and remained high (72% to 79%) throughout the rest of the year. Moreover, it is worth stating that between 6% to 8% of our overall sample responded, “not applicable” in our polling between September and November 2020. Since the start of the third national lockdown in January, the proportion of those who wear a face mask in the supermarket is at its highest point (79% to 80%) since we started tracking data, demonstrating that an enforced ban on maskless shoppers in major supermarkets may be boosting compliance further.

Ultimately, mask usage has increased in recent months as Britain navigates its third national lockdown. Most notably, mask wearing has increased in situations where it is not legally required, such as in a park or meeting a friend outside. The slight increase in mask wearing could be because of the new variants of the virus, which are believed to be significantly more transmissible. However, the rise could also be attributed to the changing weather and that mask wearing is less arduous and uncomfortable in colder months. Overall, an even smaller minority of the British public are failing to wear a mask now than in previous months.

Self-reported mask usage in Great Britain still ranks lower than elsewhere in the world. By comparison, respondents to our poll in Taiwan, conducted in December, were significantly more likely to report ‘always’ wearing a mask when leaving their homes (55%), taking public transportation (84%), meeting with a friend outside (41%), and walk in the park (38%). Only with respect to shopping at a supermarket (67%) and entering any building other than the one’s home (40%) did Taiwanese respondents report less mask usage than their British counterparts. This despite the fact that Taiwan has seen significantly fewer cases of coronavirus and has not even undergone a lockdown.

Meanwhile, in the United States, a country where mask usage has sometimes been a deeply partisan issue, respondents to our December poll also self-reported higher levels of mask usage when leaving their homes (59%), meeting with a friend outside (39%), walking in the park (31%), and similarly high levels of mask usage as when shopping at a supermarket (70%).

A number of US States, such as New York State, mandate the wearing of a mask in all outdoor settings––a move that the UK Government has recently considered.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

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