I went shopping in Leeds, a large city in northern England, on Tuesday – the day that the country reintroduced a mask mandate amid the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
Grace Dean/Insider
  • England reintroduced a mask mandate on Tuesday amid the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
  • I went shopping and took three trains that day. It was great to see people wearing masks again.
  • I felt safer than I had done in months.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

I went shopping in Leeds, a large city in northern England, on Tuesday – the day that the country reintroduced a mask mandate amid the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Leeds city center on the day England reintroduced a mask mandate.
Grace Dean/Insider

After more than four months without a government-mandated mask requirement, people now have to wear masks in shops and shopping centres, in transport hubs, and on public transport, unless exempt.

Leeds city center on the day England reintroduced a mask mandate.
Grace Dean/Insider

A large sign at Leeds train station reminded passengers that they needed to wear masks again.

Leeds station on the day England reintroduced a mask mandate.
Grace Dean/Insider

I had to take three trains that day, and a lot of people wore masks...

Leeds station on the day England reintroduced a mask mandate.
Grace Dean/Insider

... but it seemed like a a lot of people didn't realise that the mandate applied to the train station, too.

Leeds station on the day England reintroduced a mask mandate.
Grace Dean/Insider

This could have partly been because the station is in a very large, open building, which made it feel well ventilated.

Leeds station on the day England reintroduced a mask mandate.
Grace Dean/Insider

Some shoppers walking round the city centre wore masks, but most didn't.

Leeds city center on the day England reintroduced a mask mandate.
Grace Dean/Insider

The same was true of the shopping centre I went to.

Leeds city center on the day England reintroduced a mask mandate.
Grace Dean/Insider

Again, this could have been because of the high ceilings which made the mall seem like it was open air. Aside from protection from the weather, you could barely tell that you were indoors.

Leeds city center on the day England reintroduced a mask mandate.
Grace Dean/Insider

Signs on a lot of the stores reminded shoppers to don their masks. At the Marks and Spencers I went to, a customer made a beeline straight for the checkouts to ask whether they had any disposable face masks available for free because she had forgotten that the mask mandate was being reintroduced.

Leeds city center on the day England reintroduced a mask mandate.
Grace Dean/Insider

Around half of the stores didn't have signs reminding customers about the new rules...

Leeds city center on the day England reintroduced a mask mandate.
Grace Dean/Insider

... while others just had signs telling people to stay home if they had any symptoms of the coronavirus.

Leeds city center on the day England reintroduced a mask mandate.
Grace Dean/Insider

Somewhat surprisingly, the government's new mask rules don't apply to venues like cinemas, libraries, and places of worship — and therefore, remain optional. This is despite the fact that people spend long periods there and often come into contact with others.

A Cineworld in London.
Matthew Chattle/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

The government does, however, encourage people to wear masks in places "which are crowded and enclosed and where you may come into contact with people you do not normally meet," without requiring it.

Shoppers wearing face masks on Regent Street, London.
Pietro Recchia/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The government has kept changing England's mask, lockdown, and social-distancing rules during the pandemic. Because of this, they've been a headache for some people to follow.

Leeds city center in August.
Daniel Harvey Gonzalez/In Pictures via Getty Images

The government had removed England's mask mandate on July 19, meaning that people were no longer required to wear masks in stores and on public transport.

Leeds station on the day England reintroduced a mask mandate.
Grace Dean/Insider

Source: the UK Government

But many individual transport providers set their own mask policies, and I always wore mine while travelling.

Wearing a mask after getting off the train.
Grace Dean/Insider

Transport for London, for example, has been mandating that people wear masks, including on the Tube.

Commuters at Stratford underground station in east London on December 1, 2021.
Daniel Leal/AFP via Getty Images

Source: BBC

And Nexus, which operates the Tyne and Wear Metro in North-East England, mandated face masks, though most passengers didn't wear them when I rode on its subways. I've travelled on trains frequently throughout the pandemic, and noticed less than a quarter of passengers on public transport wearing masks.

Passengers on the Tyne and Wear Metro in September.
Grace Dean/Insider

Source: Insider

This included a train between Manchester and Leeds that I travelled on on Sunday, just two days before the mandate was reintroduced. The train was horrifically overcrowded due to an earlier cancellation, and we were rammed in like sardines, but very few passengers wore masks, even though the transport provider had asked people to wear them.

I traveled on a horrifically overcrowded train, and very few passengers wore masks.
Grace Dean/Insider

After the government lifted the mask mandate in July, many stores, meanwhile, replaced their signs mandating masks with ones instead saying things like: "Customers are still welcome to wear masks." Some did wear masks, but many didn't.

Leeds city center on the day England reintroduced a mask mandate.
Grace Dean/Insider

This British grocer, for example, had signs encouraging shoppers to wear masks "if you can."

A sign outside a Tesco asked that members of the public wear masks when shopping in their stores on July 28, 2021 in Leeds.
Daniel Harvey Gonzalez/In Pictures via Getty Images

But England has brought back its mask mandate after the UK identified its first cases of the Omicron variant last week. It's also reintroducing testing mandates for international travellers.

The US has also restricted travel from some African countries and is moving to require all international travelers to produce negative Covid-19 tests. The head of the NIH has also recommended that people wear face masks amid fears of the Omicron variant.

In comparison to lockdowns, curfews, and border closures, mask mandates have very few economic impacts. Businesses can stay open and people can behave largely as usual, but they just have to wear a mask.

Woman wearing face mask holds up pink turtleneck sweater while clothes shopping.
Steve Pfost/Newsday RM via Getty Images

And wearing a face mask is one of the most effective ways of reducing the spread of the coronavirus.

A Boyer's cashier scans a customers groceries in Womelsdorf, Pennsylvania.
Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle/Getty Images

Source: Insider

I was really relieved that the mask mandate was reintroduced, and when I went shopping in Leeds city centre and rode on the train I felt safer than I have done in months.

Leeds city center on the day England reintroduced a mask mandate.
Grace Dean/Insider

Leeds city centre on the day England reintroduced a mask mandate.

Leeds city center on the day England reintroduced a mask mandate.
Grace Dean/Insider

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