Coronavirus: England makes face masks compulsory in shops

Police can issue £100 fines for failing to wear face coverings in shops

A woman wears a face mask as she walks through Selfridges in London as new rules on wearing masks in England come into force. (Victoria Jones/PA via AP)
A woman wears a face mask as she walks through Selfridges in London as new rules on wearing masks in England come into force. (Victoria Jones/PA via AP)

New rules on wearing face masks in shops in England came into force on Friday amid controversy surrounding the timetable for the move.

The country began easing its lockdown rules last month with people free to enter stores without face coverings.

However, the government announced the about-turn only weeks later.

Police in England can now fine people £100 for not adhering to the rules.

Some major retailers have announced they will not enforce the mask-wearing rule in their stores, essentially because they have no power to do so.

Instead, many are encouraging customers to wear masks by installing signs in their businesses.

In the northern city of Wakefield on Friday, only three stores in its outdoor Trinity Walk Shopping Arcade had staff monitoring whether people had masks on.

Coffee shop Starbucks advised its customers that they could remove them once seated.

Shoppers entering the city's major supermarkets were all wearing masks without encouragement.

"We have seen about 95 per cent of people coming in masks today," one Morrison's employee told The National.

"Everyone seems to have automatically done it. We cannot enforce it so we are just relying on the public to comply."

Shopper Michael James said many people are frustrated at the delay in implementing the initiative.

"I don't like them, but if it keeps people safe you’ve got to do it," he said.

"But I can't understand how I didn't have to wear one yesterday and I have to today. What's the difference in the two days? But, yeah, if it cuts it down, anything.”

There are some exceptions to the new rules in places such as restaurants, pubs, gyms and hairdressers.

Other exemptions include children under 11, people with breathing problems and people who cannot wear a mask because of a disability.

John Apter, the national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, says officers will be available as a last resort but that he hopes the public “will continue to do the right thing and wear face coverings in stores to help protect fellow citizens to minimise the spread of the virus”.

Supermarket Asda has said it is the "responsibility of the relevant authorities to police and enforce the new rules".

"I've been into the supermarket this morning. There were some people wearing masks and some people not wearing masks. I was," former teacher Helen Curran said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he is relying on people to use "common sense" in wearing them.

"We should rely on the massive common sense of the British people … The people understand the value of face masks in confined spaces," he said.

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock earlier said the wearing of masks was imperative to preventing a second wave of the virus in the country.

On Friday, Mr Johnson warned the UK will still be dealing with the coronavirus pandemic in mid-2021 and said his government is preparing for a second wave of infections over the winter months.

“We will have tough times ahead in keeping this virus under control, and we have tough times ahead in coming through economically,” he said.

“I think that by the middle of next year that we will be well on our way past it.”

The UK initially told its citizens there was no compelling evidence that masks helped stop the spread of coronavirus but that position has gradually been reversed, first with a requirement to wear them on public transport and now in shops.

Face masks have been compulsory on public transport since July 15.

Updated: July 24, 2020 05:32 PM

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