The government’s face mask rules descended further into confusion today as Matt Hancock insisted they must be worn to get takeaway coffee but not in pubs – and denied that they will be compulsory in offices.
The Health Secretary struggled to explain the new system coming into force from July 24 amid warnings from police that it will be completely unenforceable.
Shown pictures of Cabinet colleagues Michael Gove and Liz Truss emerging from the same Pret outlet in London yesterday, the former bare faced while and the latter wearing a mask – Mr Hancock said the rules were not in place yet.
But he got into a muddle as he tried to explain why coffee shops were different from pubs, suggesting that going to the bar is not allowed under current advice. In fact ordering drinks at the bar is permitted where it is ‘unavoidable’.
Mr Hancock also denied speculation that Boris Johnson wants to make masks compulsory in offices as part of a drive to convince workers to return.
Meanwhile, official guidance published by the government overnight has raised fresh doubts about how it can be policed. Despite the threat of £100 fines, the document says people can have a ‘legitimate’ excuse for not wearing a face covering if it causes them ‘distress’.
The face mask confusion came as:
- Britain announced 138 more coronavirus victims yesterday as the daily fatality toll continues to drop but the average number of new cases is still higher than last week.
- Ministers yesterday announced Huawei will be banned from the UK’s 5G network with all of the firm’s technology to be ripped out by 2027;
- Chancellor Rishi Sunak has asked the Office of Tax Simplification to carry out the analysis of Capital Gains Tax, which is a levy on any profit made when selling assets;
- The Police Federation, representing rank-and-file officers, said it was ‘unrealistic and unfair’ to expect them to patrol the aisles looking for people breaking the coronavirus regulations;
- Government insiders have said that mandatory wearing masks in shops could stretch into 2021 if a vaccine cannot be found to halt the deadly pandemic.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock struggled to explain the new system coming into force from July 24 amid warnings from police that it will be completely unenforceable
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, wearing a face mask, boards an ambulance to talk with a paramedic during a visit to the headquarters of the London Ambulance Service NHS Trust on Monday
Mr Johnson is expected to announce a ‘roadmap’ for getting people back to offices as soon as this week.
It is expected to set out how workers can return safely over the next nine months, amid fears that town and city centres are being devastated by the death of the ‘lunchtime economy’ and low footfall.
Tories have voiced anger that despite the PM making public appeals for people to return to work, official guidance still states that everyone should ‘work from home if they can’.
Senior police officers have complained they were blindsided by the announcement that it will be mandatory to wear the facemasks in shops, with £100 fines if people refuse to comply.
The Police Federation, representing rank-and-file officers, said it was ‘unrealistic and unfair’ to expect them to patrol the aisles looking for people breaking the coronavirus regulations.
Mr Hancock said this morning that the rules could be in place for the ‘foreseeable future’.
‘The advice now is that face coverings are recommended in shops but not mandatory,’ he said.
‘That’s been the position for some time and we’re tightening that up to say that they’re mandatory from July 24,’ he said.
Mr Hancock said people would need to wear a face covering in Pret from July 24 because it is a ‘shop’, explaining: ‘In hospitality, so in a restaurant, there needs to be table service.
‘If there’s table service, it is not necessary to have a mask. But in any shop, you do need a mask.
‘So, if you’re going up to the counter in Pret to buy takeaway that is a shop…
‘But if you go to your local pub you can’t go to the bar… you can’t go to the bar. The reason there is the risk of transmission over the bar. Therefore it is table service, and a mask is not needed.’
Asked about claims face masks will be mandatory in offices, he said: ‘We will not be recommending masks in the office,’
A woman wears a face covering whilst shopping in Canterbury, Kent, before the announcement that it will soon be mandatory to wear a face covering in shops in England
Health Minister Matt Hancock on Tuesday confirmed that people would be required to wear them from July 24
Shop assistants fear abuse over mandatory face coverings
Shop assistants have said they fear abuse from customers over mandatory face coverings.
Rizwan Ahmed, a shop assistant at a small supermarket in Maida Vale, London, said most customers arrive without face coverings despite signs requesting they wear one.
Mr Ahmed, 38, said: ‘I’ve been telling everyone (to wear masks), but people don’t care now.
‘Some people wear them, some don’t. Say we have 100 people pass through the shop, about 10 will be wearing a mask.’
He said having to enforce the new law will create a ‘difficult situation’ for shop assistants, adding: ‘There could be trouble, because some customers mind.’
Supermarket assistant Holly, 34, from Solihull, agreed the restriction is likely to cause tension between staff and customers.
She said: ‘We have had people become very irate when we have had to limit purchases and remind them about the one-way system.
‘So yes, I do think myself and the colleagues will get more abuse from members of the public. Especially our regulars who probably think we will let them off.’
She added the restriction is ‘too little too late’ and the police do not have time to deal with shoplifters, let alone people failing to wear a mask.
Victoria Szatmari, 28, who manages Peppermint cafe in Maida Vale, said she believes ‘most’ customers will be conscious about wearing a mask, but is ‘a little’ worried about whether she will be expected to enforce it.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said she supports the restriction, but warned that retailers must not be responsible for enforcing it.
Trade union Usdaw said the Government’s announcement on face coverings ‘leaves many questions unanswered’ and agreed enforcing the rule could become a ‘flashpoint’ for abuse.
Announcing the new rules yesterday, Mr Hancock said shopkeepers could call the police if customers refused to wear a mask.
But Brian Booth of the West Yorkshire Police Federation told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: ‘It’s very unhelpful when senior ministers make comments like that. It sets out a picture to the public that the police will be the face covering monitors and we simply don’t have the resources to do that.
‘It’s going to be a public led approach society as got to police itself and take a bit of responsibility here.
‘Shop workers, I’m sure they have the talent to politely ask people to put face masks on without any involvement from the police.’
The government’s guidance on masks published overnight states: ‘You do not need to wear a face covering if you have a legitimate reason not to.’
Among the reasons listed are if ‘putting on, wearing or removing a face covering will cause you severe distress’.
There is no further definition of what would constitute ‘distress’.
The decision to make face coverings mandatory in England’s shops, with exemptions for children under 11 and people with certain disabilities and breathing conditions, provoked fury in parts of the Conservative Party.
On social media, some grassroots members posted pictures of their cut-up membership cards, while in the Commons former minister Sir Desmond Swayne said ‘nothing would make me less likely to go shopping than the thought of having to mask up’.
He questioned whether police had been consulted about the move because they ‘will have to enforce this monstrous imposition against myself and a number of outraged and reluctant constituents’.
Mr Hancock told him: ‘Enforcement is for the police, but the enforcement, I think, will largely be undertaken by the British people themselves who have been remarkable in their fortitude, sticking with these rules even whilst they may be a frustrating imposition.’
NPCC chairman Martin Hewitt indicated senior officers were ‘unaware that the announcement was to be made last night’ but they had time to work on the measures before they come into effect.
‘We will expect retailers to manage entry to their stores and compliance with the law while customers are inside, with police involvement as a last resort,’ he said.
John Apter, chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: ‘Policing the wearing of face coverings in shops can’t be a priority because we simply don’t have the resources.’
He added: ‘Only as this last resort should the police get involved.
‘To expect my colleagues to be policing the supermarket aisles, looking for those shoppers not wearing a face covering, is unrealistic and unfair.’
Paddy Lillis, general secretary of shopworkers’ union Usdaw said the Government must produce detailed guidance on the measure.
‘Usdaw expects the guidance to make it clear that shop workers will not be enforcing the wearing of face coverings,’ he said.
People wear face masks at the train station in Liverpool on Tuesday. They are set to become mandatory in shops
‘They are already dealing with more abuse than normal and this could be another flashpoint.’
Not all Cabinet ministers got the memo…
The Cabinet appeared to be more divided than ever over the compulsory wearing of face masks yesterday.
While Michael Gove was seen walking into a Pret a Manger without one, Liz Truss was pictured entering the exact same branch wearing a blue face mask only minutes later.
Mr Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, claimed on Sunday it was ‘basic good manners’ to wear masks in shops.
Bare-faced cheek: Mr Gove leaves Pret on Tuesday, left, without a mask. Right, a masked Liz Truss exits the same branch
Yesterday morning however he went against his own advice while buying his breakfast.
Shortly afterwards, Miss Truss, the International Trade Secretary, entered the same Pret in Westminster wearing a similar blue mask to the one Boris Johnson wore last Friday as he visited a shop in his constituency.
Some Conservative Party members have been cutting up their membership cards in protest at the Prime Minister’s decision to make the coverings mandatory.
Several posted messages and pictures on social media claiming the new rules were incompatible with the party’s libertarian ethos.
Also raising questions over the enforcement of coronavirus rules, the latest data showed not a single person in England and Wales was fined by police for breaching quarantine rules after arriving from abroad.
And only 10 tickets were handed out to passengers for not wearing face coverings on public transport, the figures released by the NPCC on Friday showed.
JD Sports chief executive Peter Cowgill suggested his stores will offer face coverings to anyone not wearing them but said it will not be for his staff to enforce the law.
‘The guidance so far is that our store colleagues are not really to get involved and it’s a police matter to enforce rather than for them to get involved in any potential public disturbances,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today.
Federation of Small Businesses national chairman Mike Cherry called on the Government to deliver coverings or funding to buy them so customers are not turned away.
The shift in policy on masks follows a weekend of confusion over whether ministers intended to make face coverings compulsory after Boris Johnson said they were looking at ‘stricter’ rules.
Senior Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said on Sunday he did not believe they should be mandatory and that it was better to ‘trust people’s common sense’.
The Government has been urging people to wear face coverings in confined spaces such as shops since early May and they have already been made compulsory on public transport in England since mid-June.
The regulations will be made under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, with a maximum fine of £100, reduced to £50 if it is paid within 14 days.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said ministers needed to explain why it had taken them so long to act, accusing them of being ‘slow and muddled’.
MailOnline has been inundated with emails from business owners left perplexed and angry at the face masks diktat who fear that this will kill off their businesses as it was revealed that UK faces the biggest peacetime deficit in history with the risk of four million people out of work by next year – and the economy might not recover until 2025.
Jools Cardozo, who runs Farringdon and Forbes Home Interiors in Leamington Spa, said: ‘Our high streets are near deserted, businesses are being forced to close and now the government want to tighten that last nail in the coffin by imposing that all shoppers wear face masks! How utterly ludicrous. I am all for the safety of my staff and customers but imposing this on a random future date screams of desperation’.
Susan Carlin, who runs a corner shop, told MailOnline: ‘I doubt many of our customers will be willing to wear one – very very few do – and the staff will not be comfortable asking customers to wear one. But if we let in larger numbers without masks it makes mockery of the requirement’.
A customer wearing a face mask at a store in London on Tuesday. They will soon be mandatory from July 24 onwards
She added: ‘We had a good system in 2 metre social distancing which the customers adapted well and willingly to and we work behind a screen. I believe this is a totally unnecessary and an unenforceable rule which will cause huge discomfort for my staff’.
Do face coverings help reduce coronavirus transmission?
Initially many authorities, including the World Health Organisation (WHO), suggested face coverings were not effective in preventing the spread of Covid-19 but are now recommending wearing them in indoor spaces.
So, has the science evolved on face coverings?
A report recently published by the Royal Society suggests that even basic homemade face coverings can reduce transmission if enough people wear them.
Dr Julian Tang, who is an associate professor of respiratory sciences at the University of Leicester, said wearing face coverings in public places could keep the R value below 1 by creating an ‘artificial herd immunity’.
But Dr Simon Clarke, an associate professor of cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, said that while face coverings may reduce the spread of cough droplets, robust epidemiological evidence on their benefits is still lacking.
Are there any benefits to wearing them?
Experts say the risk of coronavirus transmission appears to be higher in poorly ventilated indoor spaces and wearing face coverings in small shops or enclosed shopping centres could help reduce the spread.
In addition, there is also increased evidence which suggests that many people with the virus who do not have symptoms can still be contagious.
What does this mean for those looking to go back to the office?
Experts say wearing face coverings could provide an added line of defence amid growing evidence of airborne transmission of coronavirus.
Dr Tang said: ‘If half the people in the office wear a mask, it would increase artificial herd immunity to around 25%, which can reduce transmission overall within the office, just by reducing the number of people who are susceptible.’
Are there downsides to face coverings?
There are many indoor spaces, such as pubs and restaurants, where the use of face coverings may not be possible.
Some experts have also shared concerns that wearing face coverings may give the wearer a false sense of security, although Prof Neal said there is ‘no evidence to suggest that is the case’.
Are some face coverings better than others?
The WHO advises a three-layer face covering in the community – the outer layer should be water resistant, the inner should be water absorbent and the mid-layer acts as a filter.
The Government has said coverings can be made from scarves, bandanas or other fabric items, as long as they cover the mouth and nose.
But scientists at the Leverhulme Centre say some coverings are not as effective as others, with loosely woven fabrics, such as scarves, shown to be the least effective.
Moshe Schmahl, who works at Nat Jacobs Fishmongers in north London, said: ‘There is essential communication going back and forth between the monger and the customer.
With face masks on, it is extremely difficult to understand the other person. Let’s hope the government will provide some clarifications and exemptions’.
Dean Roddie, a director of seven carpet shops around Warwickshire, told MailOnline he has been ‘clawing some of his lost business back.’
He added: ‘We have been able to keep the 2 metre distance in our stores and have put in hand sanitiser and screens at desks and all seemed to have been going well until this madness with making masks compulsory.
‘I’m really worried this will massively affect our business, I believe people will just not bother coming out to buy a non essential item while having to wear a mask, sometimes our customers can be in our store an hour so it can be a long time to have the mask on especially when they will be 2m from our staff so there is no need for them to wear them.
‘I’m done with this government now, I’m a conservative member which will not be renewed. I personally will be doing my shopping online as I will not wear one.’
Andy Luckman of AJL Electronics and Classic Microcars in Gloucester added: ‘I have had a security rule in my shop which is that unless I can clearly see your face, you are not coming in. I have no intention of changing that rule for hysteria reasons.’
But many shoppers have taken to social media to say that they will still refuse to wear a mask calling the new rule ‘hysterical’ and Tory members have been cutting up their membership cards calling the face mask rules are the ‘final straw’.
It comes after French President Emmanuel Macron said yesterday that face masks will soon be required in public indoor spaces to curtail the coronavirus outbreak, acknowledging that infections were again on the rise.
His comments, in a television interview marking Bastille Day, came after he oversaw the traditional military ceremony that was drastically downsized because of the pandemic.
‘I would like to make masks mandatory in all enclosed public spaces,’ Macron said in the interview, a Bastille Day tradition he had shunned since taking office three years ago.
‘We have indications that (the outbreak) is accelerating a bit,’ he added, suggesting that his government would require masks in shops and public buildings from August 1.
He later posted on Twitter that ‘Wearing a mask in enclosed public spaces will be mandatory in the coming weeks.’
The virus reproduction rate, the ‘R’ ratio, has again risen above one in France, he said in the interview, meaning that a person infected with COVID-19 is likely spreading the disease to at least one other person.
Macron’s comments come as doctors have warned of a potential second wave of infections that could again overwhelm hospitals and require new lockdowns that could further hammer the economy.
Asked whether France had enough masks in case of a new spike in cases, following massive shortages as the outbreak worsened in March, Macron said: ‘We will be ready.’
‘We have secured both the stocks and the supply sources, and we are organised on the ground, to allow us to deal with an upsurge, if it comes,’ he said.
He also said the government’s ‘massive’ recovery plan would reach 100 billion euros ($114 billion), on top of more than 460 billion euros spent so far to limit the social and economic devastation from the two-month lockdown imposed in mid-March.
Priority will be placed on investments to fight climate change, he said, such as increasing freight transport by rail instead of trucks and providing subsidies for improving energy efficiency in homes and public buildings.
‘I believe we can build a different country within the next 10 years,’ he said.