LONDON (AP) — Britain’s government will demand people wear face coverings in shops as it seeks to clarify its message after weeks of prevarication amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock was expected to tell the House of Commons on Tuesday that anyone violating the order could face a fine of up to 100 pounds ($125). The order takes effect on July 24, giving shops and the police time to prepare.
Many European nations, including Germany, Spain, Italy and Greece, already require masks to be worn in enclosed spaces.
Britain, which has reported one of the world’s highest numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths, had taken a more relaxed attitude, recommending masks but not requiring them —until now.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who in the spring spent a week in the hospital being treated for Covid-19, had not been seen in public in a mask until last week. On Monday morning, he urged people to wear them. Monday evening, his government said it would be compulsory.
The authorities are hoping the public will simply comply. London Mayor Sadiq Khan told the BBC he believed that “Londoners by and large will follow the rules,” without much need for the police.
“The problem is not the issue of enforcement, the problem is the mixed messages and the confused communications,” Khan said.
Environment Secretary George Eustice did not rule out the possibility that mandatory face coverings would become compulsory in offices and other workplaces. He told the BBC on Tuesday that the government was taking “one step at a time, and we’ve taken the view in this next step that we should make it mandatory in retail environments.”
The new requirement applies only to England. Scotland has already made masks mandatory in stores.
A growing body of evidence suggests wearing face coverings brings some benefit in preventing the spread of the virus.
By DANICA KIRKA