After cabinet minister Michael Gove said wearing masks in shops is ‘good manners’ and won’t be mandatory, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that it will be, with those in England and Wales who refuse facing a £100 fine.
“The prime minister has been clear that people should be wearing face coverings in shops and we will make this mandatory from July 24,” a spokesperson for 10 Downing Street said on Monday. The measure applies to England and Wales; Scotland has already made face coverings mandatory.
The irony of a German supermarket chain Lidl offering the “first proper resistance to the tyrannical ‘New Normal’” by saying it won’t enforce the face mask mandate in Scotland – and presumably in England and Wales once it goes into effect.
The opposition Labour Party was also displeased but for different reasons, criticising Johnson for not mandating masks when it advised in favor of wearing them back in May, and “why it’ll take another 11 days before these new guidelines come into force,” according to the party’s health spokesman Jonathan Ashworth.
Labour leader Keir Starmer has criticized Johnson’s coronavirus response as “slow,” saying that the PM is “good on the rhetoric but he is not good on governing.” Starmer said there will inevitably be an inquiry into Downing Street’s handling of the pandemic.
The mask mandate is not the first time the Johnson cabinet has indulged in mixed messaging. Their initial strategy was reportedly to let the virus spread to generate “herd immunity,” before suddenly reversing course and imposing a lockdown on March 23. Johnson himself was sidelined for several weeks after contracting the virus in April.
The PM then urged Britons to go out and enjoy themselves in nature, only to threaten to close the beaches at the end of June amid a new spike in cases. This caused an uproar among the general public, with many noting that the police wasn’t nowhere near that zealous in cracking down on illegal parties, or mass protests in London and several other cities.
The UK has recorded almost 300,000 cases of Covid-19 and nearly 45,000 deaths attributed to the virus, the third-highest in the world after the US and Brazil. Face coverings are already mandatory on public transport in England and Wales, with the same £100 ($126) fine, which gets cut in half if paid within 14 days.