Gove remarks prompt calls for clarification of face covering advice

Ministers are facing demands to explain whether face coverings must be worn in shops in England after Michael Gove said it would not be mandatory.

The shadow health secretary, Jon Ashworth, is to request time for an urgent question from the Commons Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle. If granted then ministers must attend the Commons on Monday afternoon to explain the situation.

It follows days of confusion over the issue for the public and business owners. On Friday, government sources indicated face coverings could become mandatory, as Boris Johnson suggested there was a need for a “stricter” approach. However, Gove said on Sunday they would not be mandatory and the public should use their common sense.

“Ministers are in a complete muddle. On Friday, Boris Johnson gave everyone the impression they would be mandatory, only for Michael Gove to contradict him on Sunday,” said Ashworth. “Ministers need to come to the Commons on Monday and clear up this confusion. People just want to do the right thing to stay safe. Clear guidance from ministers shouldn’t be too much to ask for.”

Face masks should not be mandatory, says Michael Gove – video

No 10 suggested guidance on face masks was under constant review.

Meanwhile, Nicola Sturgeon increased tension over another public health matter when she said she would not shy away from considering quarantine for English visitors to Scotland.

Asked on BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday about the possibility of self-isolation for visitors from south of the border, she said she was not “immediately planning” to implement a policy, but added: “I will take decisions the best I can to protect the health of Scotland and to take that absolutely from a public health perspective.”

Johnson said in an online question and answer session with the public on Friday that he was looking at ways of “making sure that people really do have face coverings in shops, for instance, where there is a risk of transmission”. But Gove described the decision to wear a mask as “good manners” rather than a public health necessity.

Asked by Marr whether face coverings would become mandatory, Gove said: “I don’t think mandatory, no, but I would encourage people to wear a face mask, where they are inside, in an environment where they are likely to be mixing with others and the ventilation may not be as good as it might.

“It is basic good manners, courtesy and consideration to wear a face mask if, for example, you’re in a shop.”

It was understood that Johnson was due to make a further announcement on the topic this week, but sources at No 10 suggested this was unlikely to happen.

Scotland has already made face masks mandatory in shops. In England, masks have been required on public transport since 12 June.

Labour has said it could support the mandatory wearing of face coverings in shops. Speaking to Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme, the shadow business minister, Lucy Powell, said: “We think the government – instead of just showing a bit of leg occasionally on these things by briefing newspapers or saying things that are not clear guidance in press conferences, as the prime minister did on Friday – [they should] get some clarity.”


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