Michael Gove urges people back to workplace and says face coverings 'not mandatory' in shops

Boris Johnson had suggested a shift in policy on face coverings. Credit: Twitter/Boris Johnson

Michael Gove has said face coverings should not be made mandatory in shops in England, but that he would encourage people to wear them out of "courtesy and consideration" for others.

Face coverings are currently compulsory on public transport and in hospitals in England, but not yet for the general public while out and about.

It comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson hinted that they may become compulsory in shops, saying he wanted to be “stricter” on insisting people wear them.

The UK government insisted early on in the pandemic that masks were not necessary for use by the general public when out and about.

Speaking on Sunday morning, he told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show: “I don’t think mandatory, no, but I would encourage people to wear face masks when they are inside, in an environment where they are likely to be mixing with others and where the ventilation may not be as good as it might.

“I think that it is basic good manners, courtesy and consideration, to wear a face mask if you are, for example, in a shop. "

ITV News Correspondent John Ray explains the "mixed messages" behind the government's stance on wearing masks

“I trust people’s good sense. Now of course the Government at all times does look at the emerging evidence about what the best way to control the disease is.

“If necessary, and if tough measures are required and as we have seen in Leicester, obviously a very different situation, then tough measures will be taken.

“But on the whole… it is always best to trust people’s common sense.”

People wear a mask as they leave a shop in Buchanan Street in Glasgow. Credit: PA

Scientists had earlier welcomed suggestions the government would enforce stricter rules on face coverings.

Dr Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said the PM was “right” to be reviewing England’s position.

Eminent epidemiologist Professor David Heymann, of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said masks should be worn by “all people in a situation where no one can physically distance to prevent infection of others”.

Their views came as the prime minister said on Friday: “I do think we need to be stricter in insisting people wear face coverings in confined spaces where they are meeting people they don’t normally meet.

“We are looking at ways of making sure that people really do have face coverings in shops, for instance, where there is a risk of transmission.”

While Mr Gove did not go as far as saying face coverings should be mandatory, Labour could support a stronger enforcement, the party’s shadow business minister said.

Speaking to Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme, Lucy Powell said: “We do need to get a lot more confidence back in the system and if the mandatory wearing of face masks in shops will help to do that then we absolutely support it.

“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, they can go to restaurants and go to bars.”

Michael Gove has said the Government will not withdraw the Northern Ireland provisions Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Mr Gove’s comments came after he also urged people to return to work rather than stay at home to “fire up” the economy.

The Cabinet Office minister told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “We want to see more people back at work, on the shop floor, in the office, wherever they can be.

“Of course, in some cases it is appropriate and convenient for people to work from home, but we want to make sure that where people can add value, where the economy can benefit from people being at work, that they are at work.

But employers need to carry out proper risk assessments and publish them as workers return, according to Trades Union Congress General Secretary Frances O’Grady.

They also need to consult with their unions and work forces about them.

Ms O’Grady told Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “I think that what is important is that the Prime Minister recognises that the best way to get people back to work is to do it safely.

“The best way to drive up consumer confidence is if you have got a really effective test and trace system in place so that when we do get local outbreaks as we have seen in meat packing factories and in fast fashion that we deal with it properly and that people and can afford to take time off sick instead of having to rely on £96-a-week statutory sick pay.

“We need to see a boost to that and to make sure that all workers are covered.”