Police boss warns mandatory face coverings in shops in England will be 'impossible to enforce'

·3-min read
A staff member and customer wear face masks, with a protective screen at the till point, inside Primark in Oxford Street, London as non-essential shops in England open their doors to customers for the first time since coronavirus lockdown restrictions were imposed in March.
Face masks in shops in England are to be made compulsory later this month. (PA)

The government’s move to make the wearing of face coverings in shops mandatory will be “impossible to enforce”, a police boss has warned.

Face mask and coverings in shops and supermarkets will be compulsory in England from 24 July to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Enforcement of the regulations will be the responsibility of the police.

While shop workers will be asked to encourage compliance, retailers and businesses will not be expected to enforce them.

But Metropolitan Police Federation chairman Ken Marsh said it will be “impossible for enforcement”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday: “Shopkeepers need to step up to the plate and take some responsibility.

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“They can quite easily put signs up on their doors, ‘No mask on, no entry, this is private property’.

“That’s the first point we need to get across because this cannot all be laid on the shoulders of the police yet again.

“The second point is it will be nigh-on impossible for enforcement because you won’t have a police officer on every shop door because there isn’t enough of us.

“If a shopkeeper calls the police because someone hasn’t got a mask on, they haven’t got the power to detain them so that person can just walk away.

“We’ll be driving around and around London looking for people who aren’t wearing masks, it’s absolutely absurd.”

The government had been accused of sending mixed messages over the issue at the weekend, with Boris Johnson saying people should wear them in shops but cabinet minister Michael Gove insisting they shouldn’t be compulsory.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, wearing a face mask, talks with a paramedic during a visit to the headquarters of the London Ambulance Service NHS Trust.
Boris Johnson wearing a face mask during a visit to the headquarters of the London Ambulance Service on Monday. (PA)

Early on Monday, Downing Street said a decision would be taken in “the next few days”, but by the evening it emerged that masks will be mandatory in shops in England in 10 days’ time.

On Tuesday, health secretary Matt Hancock will say anyone failing to wear a face mask in shops and supermarkets in England from 24 July could face a fine of up to £100 – reduced to £50 if paid within 14 days.

Dr Zubaida Haque, a member of the Independent Sage group, set up to scrutinise the government’s coronavirus policy, said the £100 face mask fines were “absolutely wrong in the absence of a public information campaign”.

Dr Haque said it was important not to enforce the wearing of face masks in shops without telling the public “why and how they should be wearing them”.

Dr Haque told an Independent Sage briefing on Tuesday: “The problem is we are still in the middle of a deadly pandemic.

“This is about safety, this is about keeping people alive. This should not be about penalising people when they don’t have all the information.”

Making masks mandatory will bring England into line with Scotland, where face coverings are already compulsory in shops.

The government has been urging people to wear face coverings in confined spaces such as shops since early May and they have already been made compulsory on public transport in England since the middle of June.

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