Coronavirus: Compulsory to wear face coverings in shops in England from 24 July

Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Daniel Hewitt

The government will announce that wearing a face covering will be mandatory in shops and supermarkets in England from 24 July.Since 11 May, government guidance has advised the public to wear face coverings in enclosed public spaces, where they may come into contact with people they wouldn’t usually meet.

The use of face coverings became mandatory on public transport in England from 15 June.Health Secretary Matt Hancock is expected to confirm on Tuesday that government guidance will be updated to make the wearing of face coverings in shops and supermarkets compulsory. Guidance for other settings will be kept under review.

Environment Minister George Eustice explains why masks are not mandatory with immediate effect

Regulations will be made under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, meaning those who fail to wear a face covering will face a fine of up to £100 – in line with those payable for failing to do so on public transport.

The fine will reduce to £50 if paid within 14 days.Enforcement will be carried out by the police. While shop employees should encourage compliance, retailers and businesses will not be expected to enforce the policy.

ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston explains why the decision on face coverings has been made now

As they are on public transport, children under 11 and those with certain disabilities would be exempt.A No10 spokesperson 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."

Face masks will be compulsory in England from July 24. Credit: PA

In Scotland, Germany, Spain, Italy and Greece it is already compulsory to wear face coverings inside shops.

Labour say the Conservatives have offered confusing advice on the matter in recent months.

“The government has been slow and muddled again over face coverings," Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary said.“Given the government’s own guidance issued on 11th 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 Health Secretary must account for this further delay tomorrow.”

In the early days of the pandemic, ministers and the government’s scientific advisers repeatedly played down the value of face coverings, saying the evidence on the benefits was thin. There were also thought to be concerns stocks could be diverted from the NHS at a time of intense pressure on the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) if the public were encouraged to wear them. However, speaking during a visit to the London Ambulance Service, Mr Johnson, who was wearing a face mask, said he was now keen to make progress on the issue.

Boris Johnson wearing a face mask as he boards an ambulance. Credit: PA

“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,” he said. The president of the Royal Society, Dr Venki Ramakrishnan, said the evidence was now “quite strongly in favour” of using face coverings in enclosed spaces where people are likely to come into contact with strangers. “I think that the government should be very clear,” he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain. “It’s not consistent to make it mandatory on public transport and not make it mandatory in other enclosed and busy public spaces, because the behaviour of the virus is the same in all of these spaces.”