Great Britain

Wearing of face coverings to be compulsory in England’s shops

WEARING face coverings in shops and supermarkets is to be compulsory in England as efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus continue, Government has announced this evening.

Anyone failing to comply with the order – coming into force on July 24 – could face a fine of up to £100.

It follows a weekend of confusion over whether ministers intended to make face coverings compulsory after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said they were looking at "stricter" rules.

Earlier today Mr Johnson said he was going down the route of compulsion, saying the Government was looking at the “tools of enforcement”.

A Number 10 spokesman said: “There is growing evidence that wearing a face covering in an enclosed space helps protect individuals and those around them from coronavirus.

“The Prime Minister has been clear that people should be wearing face coverings in shops and we will make this mandatory from July 24.”

The move will bring England into line with Scotland, where face coverings are already mandatory in shops.

The Government has been urging people to wear face coverings in confined spaces such as shops since early May and they have already been made compulsory on public transport in England since mid-June.

The regulations will be made under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, with a maximum fine of £100 – reduced to £50 if it is paid within 14 days.

Enforcement of the regulations will be the responsibility of the police.

While shop workers will be asked to encourage compliance, retailers and businesses will not be expected to enforce them.

As is the case on public transport, children under 11 and those with certain disabilities will be exempt.

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said the Government needed to issue detailed guidance on the new requirement “as soon as possible”.

“Businesses need clarity on the approach to the wearing of face coverings that is consistent and supported by public health evidence,” said BCC co-executive director Claire Walker.

“Updated guidance, including on enforcement, should be issued swiftly so firms can maintain their Covid-secure status and continue their operations successfully.”

For Labour, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said ministers needed to explain why it had taken them so long to act.

“The Government has been slow and muddled again over face coverings,” he said.

“Given the Government’s own guidance issued on May 11 advised in favour of face masks, many will ask why yet again have ministers been slow in making a decision in this pandemic, and why it’ll take another 11 days before these new guidelines to come into force.”

In the early days of the pandemic, ministers and the Government’s scientific advisers repeatedly played down the value of face coverings, saying the evidence on the benefits was thin.

There were also thought to be concerns stocks could be diverted from the NHS at a time of intense pressure on the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) if the public were encouraged to wear them.

However, speaking during his visit to the London Ambulance Service, Mr Johnson said he was now keen to make progress on the issue.

“As the virus comes down in incidence and we have more and more success, I think face coverings are a kind of extra insurance we can all use to stop it coming back and stop it getting out of control again,” he said.

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