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Shoppers must cover their faces

Business group hopes masks-rule will improve confidence among customers

16 July, 2020 — By Tom Foot

Hampstead councillors Stephen Stark, Maria Higson and Oliver Cooper wearing mask at a street stall in the High Street

RETAIL experts have offered a cautious welcome to new rules which will force customers to wear face coverings in shops and supermarkets.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the new compulsory measure would come into effect next Friday. While the government has said there was more evidence that face coverings could reduce the transmission of Covid-19, it is also hoping that the rule would boost confidence among those staying away from shops.

Simon Pitkeathley, from the Camden Town Unlimited business group, said business in Camden Town was picking up on sunnier days but added: “We are still a long way from normal.”

He added: “Like so many aspects of the pandemic we won’t know the impact until it happens, but I’m hoping that the compulsory wearing of masks will help people feel more confident about going out and into shops.”

Anyone flouting the face coverings rules can be fined £100, reduced to £50 if paid within a fortnight. The fines will be enforced by the police, not shop workers.

The debate around the use of coverings has raged since the start of the outbreak, with the government resisting their mandatory use for several weeks until passengers on public transport were told they had to wear one. Scotland already had a rule for shoppers demanding the use of face coverings.

Single use masks are available from high street pharmacies while the guidance is to wash reusable masks after every use. There are currently no plans to make office workers or school staff and children wear masks.

Health secretary Matt Hancock told the Commons that he hoped supermarket staff would feel more protected, adding: “Sadly, sales assistants, cashiers and security guards have suffered disproportionately in this crisis.”

He added: “There is also evidence that face coverings increase confidence in people to shop.”

Mr Johnson himself was pictured for the first time wearing a mask, although in signs of a split on the issue cabinet office minister Michael Gove had said on Sunday that the use of coverings should be a personal choice.

Locally, the leader of Camden’s Tories made clear his support for the coverings.

“Wearing a face covering is not dehumanising,” said Councillor Oliver Cooper. “Dying is dehumanising.” He said the rule would mean the “virus was defeated sooner and businesses opening faster”.

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