LONDON: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday that he is looking into “enforcement” measures that may be required around face coverings in enclosed public spaces as he called on people to use them in shops in order to curb COVID-19 transmission.
At present, it is mandatory to wear face masks or coverings only on public transport in most regions of the UK but there has been a growing debate around a wider mandatory approach as Britain gradually emerged from the coronavirus lockdown.
"I think people should be wearing (face masks) in shops. And, in terms of how we do that, whether we make it mandatory or not, we''ll be looking at the guidance – we''ll be seeing a little bit more in the next few days," he said, when asked about face coverings during a visit to ambulance staff in central London.
"Throughout this crisis people have shown amazing sensitivity towards other people and understanding of the needs to get the virus down by doing things cooperatively. Wearing masks is one of them... It''s a mutual thing; people do see the value of it. We''ll be looking in the next few days about exactly how – with what tools of enforcement – we think we want to make progress," he said.
Johnson had made similar remarks during a social media People’s Prime Minister’s Questions, when he indicated plans for stricter enforcement of face coverings in public.
"I do think we need to be stricter in insisting people wear face coverings in confined spaces where they are meeting people they don''t normally meet," he said last Friday.
However, on Sunday, one of his senior ministers, UK Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, seemed to dismiss the notion of mandatory face coverings as he called on people to use them as “basic good manners”.
"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,” said Gove.
It led the Opposition Labour Party, which says it will back any strict enforcement of face coverings to control the spread of coronavirus, to accuse the government of a lack of clarity of the issue.
"People want to do the right thing but they want to know what the right thing is," said Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves.
Many leading scientists have called for a more compulsory approach to face coverings as a vital tool to prevent a feared second wave in the UK.
Earlier this week, Nobel laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan had warned that the UK was lagging behind other countries in the mandatory use of face masks to prevent the rapid spread of coronavirus.
“The UK is way behind many countries in terms of wearing masks and clear policies and guidelines about mask wearing for the public. The public have taken to handwashing and distancing but remain sceptical about face coverings,” said Prof Venki, the President of the Royal Society.
“Just treat it as another item of clothing that is part of the new normal and wear it whenever you cannot socially distance safely. It the right thing to do, and a small price to pay, to help keep infections down and the economy open in the pandemic,” he said.