Wearing a face covering will be compulsory in England’s shops and supermarkets from July 24 in a bid to halt the spread of coronavirus, the government has announced.
The move, expected to be detailed by health secretary Matt Hancock later, will see people in England threatened with £100 fines if they do not cover up.
And it comes after a weekend of conflicting messages from the government, with Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove saying as recently as Sunday that he did not support making mask-wearing mandatory in shops.
A spokesperson for No.10 said on Monday night: “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.”
Boris Johnson had paved the way for the move on Monday, when he said masks had “real value in confined spaces”.
And he said ministers would consider "with what tools of enforcement we want to make progress" in the coming days.
The change brings England into line with Scotland, as well as other European nations including Italy and Germany.
Face coverings have been advised but not compulsory in enclosed public spaces since mid-May, when a wave of coronavirus lockdown restrictions began to be eased.
They have been mandatory on public transport since mid-June.
Labour's shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the government had been “slow and muddled” in implementing the shift.
“Given the government’s own guidance issued on 11 May 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,” the opposition frontbencher added.
Eustice: 'Not helpful' to focus on messaging
The switch to mandating masks in shops comes just days after Gove said the government would trust the public’s “common sense” in using them, and said he was not in favour of compelling people to wear them.
But, speaking on the Today programme on Tuesday morning, environment secretary George Eustice defended the government’s messaging.
“I don’t think is very helpful to get too bothered about who said what, when,” he said.
“The truth about these things is the government was considering this and it's been under consideration obviously in recent days. It hadn't made a decision so wasn't ready to announce it... These things are always kept under review.
“And it's ready to be announced today so it's being announced.”
Shop workers’ union Usdaw welcomed the change but called for "clear and detailed guidance from the government"
General secretary Paddy Lillis said: “It is right to make the wearing of face coverings mandatory in shops, but we must recognise that expert advice says it is an additional protection on top of existing safety measures.
“There now must be clear and detailed guidance from the government and we urge them to work with Usdaw and retail employers to draw that up, as we successfully did on joint safety guidance for the reopening of high street retail with the British Retail Consortium.”
The union also welcomed news that shop workers “will not be expected to enforce the wearing of face coverings”, with Lillis adding: “They are already dealing with more abuse than normal and this could be another flashpoint."
The union boss said: “We now need a public information campaign to explain the correct use of face coverings, that some people are exempt from wearing face coverings and the importance of maintaining existing social distancing and hygiene measures.”
Matt Honeycombe-Foster is acting editor of CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where this story first appeared.