Retailers are seeking clarification from the government on face masks after conflicting comments from Boris Johnson and other ministers.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson first suggested that the government was considering making masks, or face coverings, mandatory in shops throughout England last week. Boris Johnson was pictured wearing a mask in public for the first time, and was quoted as saying, ”I do think we need to be stricter in insisting that people wear face coverings in confined places. We’re looking at ways of making sure that people really do have face coverings, in shops, for example where there is a risk of transmission.”
The Prime Minister implied that the government was considering how to enforce mask usage, saying: “In places like China or Taiwan, the far east, they don’t actually have mandatory face coverings, it’s just part of the way they do things. Clearly, we don’t have that culture here in the UK, and we have to think about how we make it happen and how we make it work.”
The move would follow directives from Scotland, where the wearing of face coverings has now become compulsory. They are not currently required in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, although masks are mandatory on public transport in England, and official guidance says people should also wear them in enclosed spaces.
However, cabinet office minister Michael Gove has now created confusion by suggesting that that face masks in shops will not be mandatory in England and said the government trusted “people’s good sense” on the issue. He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr: “I don’t think mandatory, no, but I would encourage people to wear a face mask, where they are inside, in an environment where they are likely to be mixing with others and the ventilation may not be as good as it might. It is basic good manners, courtesy and consideration to wear a face mask if, for example, you’re in a shop.”
Retailers await an official statement to clarify the matter, as the shadow business minister, Lucy Powell, commented: “We think the government – instead of just showing a bit of leg occasionally on these things by briefing newspapers or saying things that are not clear guidance in press conferences, as the prime minister did on Friday – [should] get some clarity. That’s really something that would get confidence back into the system and get people feeling that they can go to the shops.”
Scientists have urged ministers to set a good example by publicly wearing face coverings. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, has been frequently photographed in a tartan mask.
Prof Anthony Costello, a former director at the World Health Organization told a briefing of the Independent Sage committee: “Our message is: wear masks indoors, wear masks in public places, and I think ministers should be setting a good example. They are not doing that right now, particularly in England.”