The Government's policy on face coverings in shops was plunged into further confusion today as a Cabinet minister said they should be "mandatory perhaps" and shoppers should decide whether to wear them in supermarkets based on how busy they are.
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said he would wear a face covering into a small shop, though this is not compulsory. He stressed it was a mark of “courtesy” and “altruism” to others.
However, the message was more complex on supermarkets, with shoppers being urged to judge for themselves whether they should wear a face mask to reduce the risk of spreading the killer Covid-19 virus which has already claimed more than 50,000 lives in the UK.
“Carrying one with me and wearing one into a supermarket is a good idea,” the Cabinet minister told BBC Breakfast. “And I think frankly the best thing to do is to carry on wearing it.
“If the supermarket is very busy then wearing it is absolutely sensible. People can be trusted to have the good sense to make the judgement call.”
But he suggested a face covering may not be needed if the supermarket is not busy.
He added: “If one has gone into the supermarket very early in the morning and there is nobody around, well that is one thing..but the point is when you come into close contact with people you want to give them the confidence that you are doing everything you can to prevent inadvertent transmission of this disease.”
Public health experts say making face coverings mandatory in shops in Scotland has hugely increased the number of people wearing them in stores.
Amid growing suspicions of a split in Government over face coverings, Mr Buckland said his view on their use was "mandatory perhaps".
Senior minister Michael Gove firmly came down yesterday against making them compulsory .
But Boris Johnson had earlier said a "stricter" approach was needed so people wear masks in confined spaces.
Pressed on whether he was "mandatory never" or "mandatory perhaps", Mr Buckland told the BBC's Today programme: "I think mandatory perhaps.
"Wearing them in an enclosed space where you have got lots of people for example in busy shops seems to be sensible."
Stressing that coverings were compulsory on public transport, he stressed that with regards shops: "The matter is under careful and daily review.
"If it becomes necessary to nudge people further by taking further action then of course we will consider that."