News | Published July 24 2020

Hospitality, retail industries and opposition MPs claim mixed messages on face covering rules

Trade bodies and opposition MPs have said that the government has given out mixed messages over the circumstances in which face coverings must be worn, prior to new rules being implemented on Friday.

The wearing of face masks became obligatory in shops in England on Friday, with full guidance only published 12 hours before the rules came into effect.

Bodies in the hospitality and retail sector have said that new information contradicts previous guidance given to the sector, with these concerns echoed by opposition MPs.

Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis said that face coverings should be worn in takeaways when purchasing food and drink to take away from the premises, but not in the event that the person buying the food is staying and eating there.

Lewis told the BBC: "If you are going into a takeaway and you are eating in somewhere that's got a takeaway, then that is like hospitality. You are eating - it's not practical to wear a face mask, we recognise that.

"But if you are going in to buy a product and leaving again, then you are treating it like a shop and you should be wearing a face mask."

A spokesperson for the Department of Health commented: "If a shop or supermarket has a cafe or a seating area to eat and drink, you can remove your face covering in that area."

Face coverings are now mandatory in enclosed public spaces such as supermarkets, indoor shopping centres, transport hubs, banks and takeaways.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade body UK Hospitality, has said that new advice contradicts previous guidance and has criticised the timing of full information being provided.

She said: "It's really unhelpful to have that confusion because the single biggest thing we need now is to rebuild consumer confidence and that needs clear, unambiguous messaging."

Nicholls added that takeaways had been left with "a very short time to properly brief staff, prepare signage and take steps to encourage compliance".

The confusion ahead of the guidelines being publicised had been exacerbated by contradictory statements from both the health secretary and the official spokesman for the prime minister over face covering rules in venues such as takeaways and sandwich shops.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said last week: "You do need to wear a face mask in Pret because Pret is a shop. If there's table service, it is not necessary to have a mask. But in any shop, you do need a mask. So, if you're going up to the counter in Pret to buy takeaway that is a shop."

Following this advice, the prime minister's spokesman said: "We will be publishing the full guidance shortly but my understanding is that it wouldn't be mandatory if you went in, for example, to a sandwich shop in order to get a takeaway to wear a face covering."

In the wake of the confusion, Lib Dem health spokesperson Munira Wilson told PA Media: "Clear communication is critical in a public health crisis. Instead, this confusion on guidance shows ministers simply could not organise a bun fight in a bakery.

"All this stinks of ministers making it up as they go along instead of listening to the experts."

Scotland made the wearing of face coverings compulsory in its shops from July 10, while in Wales and Northern Ireland shoppers have not been advised that they need to use them.

When the new rules come into force in England on Friday, any instances of non-compliance will be punishable with a fine of up to £100.

Children under 11 and people with breathing problems or certain disabilities are exempt from needing to wear face coverings.

Face coverings have already been made obligatory on public transport in England and Scotland, as well as on the majority of transport in Northern Ireland including buses, trains and ferries. Wales will make face coverings compulsory on public transport from July 27.

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Authored by

Alexander Bridge-Wilkinson
Junior Editor
July 24 2020

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