Health Secretary to announce compulsory coverings in English stores after days of government confusion

Ahead of the announcement the Prime Minister wore a face mask during a visit to the London Ambulance Service NHS Trust on Monday Credit: AFP

The Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 will be amended to allow police to issue fines of up to £100 to people who fail to wear a face covering in shops and supermarkets. Children under 11 years old and those with "certain disabilities" will be exempt.

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 new rules will be enforced by the police, not shop workers who should instead "should encourage compliance", officials said.

That came after James Daunt, the managing director of bookshop chain Waterstones, said on Monday that it "would not be right" to ask staff to enforce the rule because there was "a tiny, tiny minority of people who will be confrontational over it".

On Monday a spokesman for the National Police Chiefs’ Council, which represents top police officers, said: “Once we have full details of the new legislation we will issue police officers with guidance on their role in enforcement.”

The policy change came shortly after official figures showed the UK coronavirus daily death toll increased by 11 to 44,830 – the lowest 24-hour rise since mid-March.

The Government has advised the public to wear face coverings in enclosed public spaces, like shops, where they will be with people they would not usually meet, since May 11.

Scientific studies have shown that wearing face coverings over the mouth and nose may reduce the risk of an infected person passing the virus on to someone else.

Last week, the World Health Organisation said there was “emerging evidence” that Covid-19 could be spread through particles in the air, and Venki Ramakrishnan, president of the Royal Society, said everyone should wear a face covering in all public places.

Mr Johnson appeared to be moving towards making them compulsory on Friday when he said the Government had "to be stricter in insisting people wear face coverings in confined spaces".

However he was then apparently contradicted by Mr Gove who said on Sunday that it was "best to trust people’s common sense" rather than force them to adopt coverings.

Mr Johnson then attempted to clarify the position on a visit to the London Ambulance Service on Monday, saying: "I think people should be wearing [face coverings] in shops.

"And, in terms of how we do that, whether we make it mandatory or not, we’ll be looking at the guidance – we’ll be saying a little bit more in the next few days. 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."

Mr Johnson added: "Throughout this crisis people have shown amazing sensitivity towards other people and understanding of the needs to get the virus down by doing things cooperatively.

"Wearing masks is one of them… It’s a mutual thing; people do see the value of it. We’ll be looking in the next few days about exactly how – with what tools of enforcement – we think we want to make progress."

The new policy marks the completion of an about-turn on face coverings which has taken months, with ministers and officials insisting in March that they were little help in fighting the virus.

Separately, Baroness Vere of Norbiton, a transport minister, warned of a "ramping up” in enforcement action against passengers on public transport who refuse to put on face coverings.

Figures from the British Transport Police showed that, since face coverings became mandatory on trains and buses on June 15, 18,000 people have been warned about a failure to wear a face covering on buses and trains, with 800 told to leave services and eight people given £100 fines.

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