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Labour demands update on face masks after Michael Gove rejects call to make them mandatory in shops

The use of face masks in England is currently only compulsory on public transport. (PA)

3 min read

Labour is demanding a Commons update on face masks after Cabinet minister Michael Gove rejected calls to make their use mandatory in shops.

Shadow Health Minister Justin Madders said Matt Hancock must come to Parliament to give a “clear message” on face coverings.

The call comes after Mr Gove, the minister for the Cabinet Office, said he did not agree it should be compulsory for people to wear masks in shops, instead backing a “common sense” approach.

Face masks are already mandatory on public transport in England, but their use in shops and other indoor spaces is currently only recommended.

Scotland last week pressed ahead with requiring citizens to don face coverings in stores, and Labour’s Lucy Powell said this weekend a similar move in England could help “get confidence back into the system”.

Boris Johnson, who was last week pictured wearing a face mask for the first time, has also promised that the Government will be “very insistent” on asking peple to “wear face coverings in confined places where they are meeting people that they don't normally meet“.

But, speaking to the BBC on Sunday about whether face coverings should become mandatory, Mr Gove said: "I don't think mandatory, no.

“But I would encourage people to wear face masks when they are inside, in an environment where they are likely to be mixing with others and where the ventilation may not be as good as it might.

"I think that it is basic good manners, courtesy and consideration, to wear a face mask if you are, for example, in a shop.”

He added: "It's always best to trust people's common sense."

But Mr Madders told Radio 4’s Westminster Hour on Sunday night that Health Secretary needed to clarify the Government's position.

“I think what we ask for really is clarity and certainty, and from that people will have confidence whether it’s right for them to return to retail settings in whatever way they’re told to is best for their health," the Labour frontbencher said.

He added: “We need Matt Hancock to come to the House and say this is what the science says, this is what we believe you should be doing and then let’s move on. 

“Have a clear message and we all know where we stand.”


Justice Secretary Robert Buckland on Monday said he wanted to see people “do the courteous and responsible thing” — but did not rule out further action to drive the use of masks if people do not comply.

Characterising his position as “mandatory perhaps”, Mr Buckland said of face coverings: “Wearing them in an enclosed space where you've got lots of people, for example a busy shop seems to be sensible.

“And it's all about increasing confidence. I think that the more of us that do the courteous and responsible thing, the more people you'll see venturing out into shops.”

But he added: “If it becomes necessary to nudge people further by taking further action, of course, we will consider that. We've done it on public transport where people have to be together with each other, perhaps for hours at a time.”

The call comes after a report published last week by the Royal Society, an independent British scientific academy, questioned the UK Government's messaging on face masks.

According to one of two studies carried out by the group, uptake of face coverings in the UK by late-April was around 25%, compared to 83.4% in Italy, 65.8% in the United States and 63.8% in Spain.

Melinda Mills, lead author on the report, said: "What is clear is that it isn’t the public’s fault for not wearing masks in the UK. Rather, consistent policies and effective public messaging is vital, which have even differed across England, Scotland and Wales.”

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