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Matt Hancock says government ‘not proposing’ to order masks in offices after move to enforce them in shops

The Health Secretary confirmed ministers had rejected ordering masks for places of work. (BBC)

3 min read

Ministers have rejected plans to ask people in offices to wear masks because they would not give “that much protection” from coronavirus, the Health Secretary has said.

Matt Hancock told BBC Breakfast on Wednesday the Government had considered but sided against proposals to extend mandatory face coverings to places of work.

It comes after The Telegraph reported that officials have started private talks with business groups on the use of face coverings in workplaces.

On Tuesday Mr Hancock moved to make the wearing of masks mandatory in England’s shops from July 24, with £100 fines to be doled out for non-compliance. 

It follows a similar move to require face coverings on public transport.

But, pressed on whether the guidance could be extended to offices, the Cabinet minister told the BBC: "It’s something that we’ve looked at and rejected on exactly the grounds I’ve just set out which is that what you need in offices is you need social distancing."

He added: "You need to be two metres apart or have other mitigations to make your workplace Covid-secure. We set all that out some months ago and that’s largely happening.

"But we’re not proposing to extend masks to offices, no."

According to The Telegraph, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has begun contacting business representative groups to gauge their views on the wider use of face coverings.

A Government source told the paper things were "moving very quickly and nothing can be ruled out".

“We spent a long time saying we wouldn’t tell people to wear them in shops, but now that’s what we’ve done," they added.

But, explaining why the Government believed masks were useful in shops and on public transport but not in offices, Mr Hancock said on Wednesday morning: "When you're in close proximity with somebody who you have to work closely to, then if you're there for a long time with them, a mask doesn't offer that protection.

"As opposed to a shop or public transport for instance when you're when you're with somebody for a reasonable amount of time, a few minutes, but not all day."

The Health Secretary added: "The same logic applies for schools. 

"We're not recommending masks in schools, because if you're in a classroom with kids all day then the mask doesn't give you that much protection.

"The point is that it's when you're with in interaction with people who [you] aren't normally with.

"That's where the mask can be particularly helpful."

The move to bring in mandatory face coverings followed days of speculation over the Government’s position.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove — who was pictured without a mask in a Westminster branch of Pret A Manger on Tuesday — this weekend said he did not believe mandating their use would be needed.

But, announcing the shift in the Commons on Tuesday, Mr Hancock said he wanted to “give people more confidence to shop safely and enhance protections for those who work in shops".

And he warned: “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."

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