Wearing a face covering will be mandatory in shops and cafés serving takeaway food from Friday to help reduce the spread of coronavirus, the UK government has confirmed, following some confusion over the rules.
Government advice has been inconsistent in recent days after Downing Street and ministers made contradictory comments on whether face covering rules would apply to all premises.
Official guidance published just hours before the new rules come into force clarified that it will be compulsory to wear a face covering when buying food and drink to take away. However, the public will be permitted to sit down in the same outlet and remove their mask to consume their purchase.
From Friday, those who fail to cover their faces in shops, supermarkets, banks, post offices and transport hubs will face a fine of up to £100 — in line with rules brought in on public transport in mid-June.
It will still not be mandatory to wear a face covering in restaurants, pubs, hairdressers, gyms and leisure centres, or entertainment venues such as cinemas, concert halls and theatres. Those aged under 11, or anyone with disabilities or certain health conditions, will also not be required to wear a covering.
After months of suggesting protective masks offered only limited benefits for healthy members of the public, the latest guidance is a significant hardening in the government’s approach.
Downing Street said those spotted incorrectly wearing their masks will be “advised as to the right and safest way to wear a face mask”, instead of facing an immediate fine.
“With shops, we would expect them to give advice to customers and remind them that they should be wearing a face covering and I’m sure the overwhelming majority of the public will do so”, a spokesman said.
It comes amid confusion over advice to the hospitality industry in recent days, who warned Thursday was “very late in the day” for ministers to publish the guidance.
Speaking last week, the health secretary Matt Hancock said: “You do need to wear a face mask in Pret because Pret is a shop. 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.”
Hours later a Downing Street spokesman said it was his understanding that it would not be mandatory “if you went in, for example, to a sandwich shop in order to get a takeaway to wear a face covering”.
Ministers had previously discouraged the public from using medical face masks because they did not want to jeopardise the supplies of professional equipment to frontline health workers.
The Royal Society, Britain’s national academy of sciences, issued two separate reports this month which emphasised the benefits of face masks for reducing the risk of infection both for the wearer and for people around them.
Announcing the new rules, Mr Hancock said: “As we move into the next stage of easing restrictions for the public, it is vital we continue to shop safely so that we can make the most of our fantastic retail industry this summer.”
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