Masks to Be Mandatory in English Shops After Pressure on Johnson

Face coverings will be compulsory in all shops in England from July 24 as part of attempts to stop the spread of coronavirus, Health Secretary Matt Hancock will announce Tuesday.

The move, which will be enforced by fines, comes afterpressure from labor unions, business lobbyists and opposition politicians, who accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government of lacking clarity in its guidance for defeating the pandemic.

“There is growing evidence that wearing a face covering in an enclosed space helps protect individuals and those around them from coronavirus,” Johnson’s office said in a statement. “The Prime Minister has been clear that people should be wearing face coverings in shops and we will make this mandatory from July 24.”

Johnson said Friday he wanted to be “stricter” about face coverings, but Michael Gove, one of the prime minister’s most senior ministers, said Sunday he favored trusting “people’s common sense” instead of using the law. By Monday, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland told the BBC he would “perhaps” support legal enforcement.

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USDAW, the retail union, demanded clarity from ministers and protection for shopworkers after a weekend of “mixed messaging and indecision.” Jonathan Ashworth, health spokesman for the opposition Labour Party, said the confusion was hampering attempts to defeat coronavirus, which has so far claimed 44,830 lives in the U.K..

“Conflicting advice and conflicting statements from the Government only hinder our fight against the virus,” Ashworth wrote in a letter to Hancock Monday. “Publishing clear and consistent advice on face coverings is vital in maintaining public confidence and keeping people safe.”

The World Health Organization recommends face coverings in confined and crowded spaces where social distancing is difficult, including shops, public transport and some workplaces.

Face coverings have been compulsory on public transport in England since June 15, but shoppers were given the choice. They were only advised to cover their faces in enclosed spaces where they might come into contact with those they wouldn’t usually meet -- and many chose not to.

“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,” Johnson said in a pooled TV interview Monday. “I do think that face coverings do have a real value in confined spaces, and I do think the public understand that.”

Regulations will be introduced to enforce the new rules after July 24 with fines of 100 pounds ($125) for non compliance, Johnson’s office said. It will be enforced by the police and is in line with the penalty for going bare faced on public transport.

Scotland has already made face coverings in shops compulsory, as have Germany, Spain, Italy and Greece.

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