Friday, 18 Jun 2021

Coronavirus: Face masks ‘absolutely a good idea’ in shops but not compulsory

Wearing face masks in shops is “absolutely a good idea” but it should be left to people’s judgement, a Tory cabinet minister has said as Labour backed making it obligatory.

While using coverings in enclosed spaces was being encouraged by the government in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Michael Gove said it was important “to treat people with respect”.

It comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson signalled they may become compulsory in shops, saying he wanted to be “stricter” on insisting people wear them because of the COVID-19 crisis.

But speaking to Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme, Mr Gove indicated he did not think they should be mandatory.

The Cabinet Office minister said: “I think we should do everything we can to encourage people and to support people to wear face masks in enclosed spaces, particularly in shops, and I think it will be the case that government will be able to help in that regard.

“We’re investing in significantly increasing the capacity to manufacture face masks in the UK.”

But Mr Gove warned people wearing a mask must not think it “somehow makes then invulnerable”.

He added: “There are appropriate moments when a direct message to say to people ‘Don’t do X’ or ‘Do do Y’ is appropriate, but I also think it is quite right to treat the British people with the respect their intelligence and their judgement deserves.

“Outside you don’t need to wear a face mask, inside, particularly in an enclosed space with poor ventilation, it is absolutely a good idea.

“On public transport you should be wearing it because of the necessary benefits that it brings to others.

“In enclosed areas like shops we encourage people to wear face masks as well. That seems to me to be perfectly sensible advice.

“I can understand why there may be a desire to build a binary divide… but I think it is important to treat people with respect.”

But Labour’s shadow business minister Lucy Powell said the opposition supported the compulsory wearing of face coverings in shops as a way of restoring confidence.

She was critical of the government’s approach, which she characterised as “showing a bit of leg”, and stressed the need for clarity.

The Labour frontbencher also defended why she and party leader Sir Keir Starmer had not worn masks on a recent visit to a pub and brewery, arguing it had not been a requirement of going to the venue.

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