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Boris Johnson has dropped a fresh hint that face coverings and masks will become compulsory in shops in England.
The prime minister said face coverings have a “great deal of value in confined spaces” amid the continued presence of the coronavirus, adding: “I think people should be wearing [them] in shops.”
Downing Street later said it was carrying out a “formal review” with scientific advisers, with the announcement of a “final position in the next few days”.
Johnson was speaking during a visit to the headquarters of the London Ambulance Service NHS Trust, during which he wore a mask.
He told reporters: “The scientific evaluation of face coverings and their importance on stopping aerosol droplets, that’s been growing, so I do think that in shops it is very important to wear a face covering if you’re going to be in a confined space and you want to protect other people and receive protection in turn.
“Yes, face coverings, I think people should be wearing in shops, and in terms of how we do that – whether we will be making that mandatory or not – we will be looking at the guidance, we will be saying a little bit more in the next few days.”
Justice secretary Robert Buckland earlier said he would “perhaps” support making it compulsory to wear face coverings in public.
Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme if he is in the “mandatory perhaps” or “mandatory never” camp, Buckland said: “I think I’m ‘mandatory perhaps’.”
“If it becomes necessary to nudge people further by taking further action, then of course we will consider that.
“I think the matter is under careful and daily review.”
However, on Sunday, another senior minister, Michael Gove, told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show he doesn’t think face coverings should be made compulsory and that it is “basic good manners” to wear one.
Johnson sparked talk of compulsory face coverings on Friday. Speaking at Downing Street’s “people’s Prime Minister’s Questions”, he said: “I do think we need to be stricter in insisting people wear face coverings in confined spaces.”
Johnson was later pictured wearing one for the first time as he visited shops in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency.
In England, face coverings are currently only compulsory on public transport.
They became compulsory in shops in Scotland on Friday, adding to the country’s public transport rules.
Masks become compulsory on public transport, including taxis, in Wales on Monday.
If Downing Street does decide to make face coverings compulsory, it would mark a significant backtrack.
Throughout February, March and April, the government and its top scientists repeatedly ruled out advising people to wear them, citing limited scientific evidence that they are effective.
In May, face coverings were officially recommended for the first time. They were then made compulsory on public transport on 15 June.