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People could be required to wear a face covering in shops until a vaccine for coronavirus is found, Matt Hancock, has suggested.
“I expect that this law will be in place for the foreseeable future,” the health secretary said on Wednesday morning.
Asked by BBC Radio 4′s Today programme if that meant it could remain until next summer, Hancock said: “Well let’s see how well we do on getting a vaccine.”
“The scientists have been working incredibly hard on a vaccine and whilst the science is imperfect, and no vaccine is by any means guaranteed, that is something we are working incredibly hard on,” he said.
But Hancock dismissed reports people could also be forced to wear a face mask in offices. “No, that isn’t going to happen,” he said.
“The reason is in offices you tend to spend a lot time with the same people.
“The way to stop the spread of the virus in offices is to have social distancing.
“Where the mask benefits is from you spreading the disease to other people when you have relatively short interactions with lots of different people. Which is why it is right to have this mandatory in public transport, shops and the NHS.”
Hancock confirmed on Tuesday it will be mandatory for people in England to wear face coverings in shops from July 24.
Anyone failing to comply with the new rules could face a fine of up to £100.
The shift in policy on masks follows a weekend of confusion over whether ministers intended to make face coverings compulsory after Boris Johnson said they were looking at “stricter” rules.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said on Sunday he did not believe they should be mandatory and that it was better to “trust people’s common sense”.
Gove was pictured in a shop on Tuesday without a face covering, after the upcoming change in the law had been announced.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.