Announcing to MPs the latest coronavirus rule for people in England, Matt Hancock said the mandatory wearing of face coverings in shops will be enforced by the police. The Health Secretary urged shopkeepers to “call the police” if anyone entering their shops refuses to wear a face mask from July 24. Mr Hancock told the Commons face coverings can help to protect shop workers and restore the confidence of shopppers.
In a statement, he told MPs: “In recent weeks we have re-opened retail and footfall is rising. We want to give people more confidence to shop safely and enhance protection for those who work in shops.
“Both of these can be done by the use of face coverings.
“Sadly sales assistants, cashiers and security guards have suffered disproportionately in this crisis. The death rate of sales and retail assistants is 75 percent higher amongst men and 60 percent higher amongst women than in the general population.”
But Conservative Party members have already been cutting up their membership cards in protest at Boris Johnson’s move to make face masks mandatory in shops in England.
The hashtag #NoMasks and the word “muzzles” were both trending on Twitter on Tuesday morning, while several people posted pictures of chopped-up cards or cancelled registrations.
Many said the order – which will come into effect from July 24 and carries a maximum fine of £100 for non-compliance – is incompatible with the party’s libertarian values.
Others claimed there is insufficient evidence to suggest that the measure has meaningful health benefits.
READ MORE: ‘No mask, no entry’ Met Police warns shops ‘must take responsibility’
Ahead of Mr Hancock’s announcement, Environment Secretary George Eustice said retailers and police must both play a role in enforcing the use of face coverings by shoppers in England, after officers warned the law would be unenforceable.
The Cabinet minister also defended the delay in introducing the measure to combat the spread of coronavirus as the UK relaxes the lockdown.
Ken Marsh, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers in London, said the law will be “impossible for enforcement” as he called for shopkeepers to “step up to the plate and take some responsibility”.
“It will be nigh on impossible for enforcement because you won’t have a police officer on every shop door because there isn’t enough of us,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“If a shopkeeper calls the police because someone hasn’t got a mask on, they haven’t got the power to detain them so that person can just walk away.
Urging the public to “play their part and to abide by these restrictions”, Mr Eustice said retailers and shoppers have responsibilities before the police will be asked to step in.
“Of course retailers have been very responsible in the way they’re approaching this challenge, they will have a role to play in making sure there’s compliance,” he told Today.
“But when it comes to that final sanction of issuing a penalty, that is something that only the police can do.”
Also raising questions over enforcement, the latest data showed not a single person in England and Wales was fined by police for breaching quarantine rules after arriving from abroad.
And only 10 tickets were handed out to passengers for not wearing face coverings on public transport, the figures released by the National Police Chiefs’ Council on Friday showed.