Coronavirus: Shops can call police if customers fail to wear face covering, Hancock says

Video report by ITV News Correspondent Rachel Younger

Shops can call police if people refuse to wear masks in retail stores once it becomes mandatory in England from next Friday, the health secretary has said.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Matt Hancock said the move would help protect workers and restore the confidence of shoppers.

He told MPs: “In recent weeks we have re-opened retail and footfall is rising.

“We want to give people more confidence to shop safely and enhance protection for those who work in shops.”

Mr Hancock also warned those who failed to listen to the law could be punished.

Conservative MP George Eustice on new face covering rules across shops and supermarkets in England

He said: “Just as with public transport, children under 11 and those with certain disabilities will be exempt.

"The liability for wearing a face covering lies with the individual.

“Should an individual without an exemption refuse to wear a face covering, a shop can refuse them entry and can call the police if people refuse to comply.

“The police have formal enforcement powers and can issue a fine.”

Police, not shopkeepers, are expected to ensure face masks are worn in shops and supermarkets.

Failure to wear a mask could see a fine of up to £100.

Also on Tuesday, the chair of the Metropolitan Police warned it would be “impossible” to enforce mandatory face covering wearing.

ITV News Political Correspondent Paul Brand on whether government's decision to make face coverings compulsory in shops in England will inspire confidence

Ken Marsh said shopkeepers must "step up to the plate and take some responsibility", adding they should put signs on their door warning customers they will be refused entry if they fail to comply.

He told Radio 4's Today programme: “It will be nigh-on impossible for enforcement because you won’t have a police officer on every shop door because there isn’t enough of us.

“If a shopkeeper calls the police because someone hasn’t got a mask on, they haven’t got the power to detain them so that person can just walk away.

“We’ll be driving around and around London looking for people who aren’t wearing masks, it’s absolutely absurd.”

Regulations have been 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.

Labour's Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth accused the Conservatives of "mixed messaging" when it came to face coverings.

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

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Ashworth said: “After days of ministerial muddle, we finally have a decision.

"I’ve long warned that this virus exploits ambiguity and that mixed messaging in a pandemic is so damaging.

“On Friday we had the prime minister say he favoured face masks.

"On Sunday we have (Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove) saying he didn’t favour face masks.

“Yesterday (Justice Secretary Robert Buckland), unsure what to say, had to say in the end he was perhaps in favour of face masks.

“It didn’t have to be this way.

"We didn’t have to have this confusion.”

Boris Johnson, wearing a face covering, elbow bumps an employee during a visit to the London Ambulance Service Credit: Ben Stansall/PA

A No.10 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."

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