The mayor of London has called for Boris Johnson to make the wearing of face coverings compulsory in shops to limit the risk of coronavirus transmission, as non-essential retail stores begin to reopen.
In a letter to the prime minister, Sadiq Khan urged the government to follow guidance set by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which recently updated its advice to recommend face masks be worn in public where social distancing is not possible.
Mr Khan wrote: “It is increasingly clear that face coverings will play a key role in our efforts to stop the further spread of the virus and they need to become a more regular part of our day-to-day life.
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“The high level of use on our public transport network has again shown that Londoners are willing to act to protect their community, but the government’s current rules are lagging behind other countries.
“With non-essential shops now opening and the public returning to our high streets, I urge the government to follow World Health Organisation guidance and make these coverings mandatory for those shopping in retail outlets and in other spaces where it is impossible to keep a safe distance.”
The WHO changed its guidance earlier this month, having previously argued there was insufficient evidence to say healthy people should wear masks.
Director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on 5 June that “in light of evolving evidence, the WHO advises that governments should encourage the general public to wear masks where there is widespread transmission and physical distancing is difficult”.
Such places include public transport, shops or “other confined or crowded environments”.
The new advice was prompted by studies that emerged over recent weeks showing new evidence that the masks could provide a “barrier for potentially infectious droplets”, said the body, which has always advised that medical face masks should be worn by sick people and their carers.
Face coverings are already mandatory on public transport in England, and can be refused travel if they do not follow the rules.
Mr Khan told LBC Radio this week that he expects wearing face masks to be the “new normal” for at least a year as the country cautiously emerges from the coronavirus lockdown.
Government advice says people should wear face masks when in enclosed public spaces, but it is not mandatory and ministers say social distancing is still the preferred means of reducing transmission.