Guardian News and Media/London
Boris Johnson has urged the public in England to wear masks in shops as “extra insurance” against the coronavirus, and hinted the government could be poised to make them mandatory.
Downing Street has also hinted that guidance encouraging employees to work from home where possible is under review, after Johnson suggested workers could return if effective protective measures were in place.
The prime minister said evidence “has been growing” on the effectiveness of wearing masks in public spaces, after coming under pressure to make the wearing of face coverings mandatory in England in line with the more stringent guidance in Scotland.
“The scientific evidence of face coverings, and the importance of stopping aerosol droplets; that’s been growing,” Johnson said. “So I do think that in shops it is very important to wear a face covering.”
He added: “Face coverings are an extra insurance we can all use to stop it coming back, and stop it getting out of control again.”
Asked specifically whether face coverings would be made mandatory in shops in England, as they already are on public transport, he said the government was considering what “tools of enforcement” would be used to increase compliance.
Johnson was photographed wearing a face covering for the first time on Friday, coinciding with an information campaign from the government to nudge people to wear masks in shops.
No 10 denied the government was lagging behind other countries in responding swiftly to new evidence on mask wearing. “We’ve always said we’ll keep it under review and so have the experts who advise the government,” Johnson’s spokesman said, pointing to new evidence on aerosol transmission.
The government had come under pressure to clarify the rules.
The prime minister had hinted on Friday of a stricter regime, but the cabinet office minister, Michael Gove, said on Sunday he thought masks should not be mandatory. “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,” Gove said. “It is basic good manners, courtesy and consideration to wear a face mask if, for example, you’re in a shop.”
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