Face coverings compulsory in shops from 24 July

Gemma, the owner of The Arc on Howard Street, is embracing her new mask

The government will officially announce today (Tuesday) that it will be mandatory to wear a face covering in shops from 24 July.

Anyone not wearing a mask in a shop will face a fine of £100, although shop staff will not be required to enforce the rule.

A Government spokesperson said, “There is growing evidence that wearing a face covering in an enclosed space helps protect individuals and those around them from Coronavirus.”

“The prime minister has been clear that people should be wearing face coverings in shops and we will make this mandatory from 24 July.”

The PM, Boris Johnson, said, “The scientific evidence of face coverings, and the importance of stopping aerosol droplets; that’s been growing. So I do think that in shops it is very important to wear a face covering.

More details will be announced by the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, this afternoon, including how the policy will be enforced.

A spokesman for the National Police Chiefs’ Council said, “Once we have full details of the new legislation we will issue police officers with guidance on their role in enforcement.”

Rosanna Heasman, owner of The Store at St Cuthbert’s Arcade, spoke yesterday on BBC Three Counties Radio about the topic.

“As a shopkeeper for a small business, I do a lot more engaging with my customers than regular supermarkets,” Rosanna told the Bedford Independent.

“I do a lot of explaining and talking about products and interacting with customers, that I have found wearing masks so far hinders the communication, especially those who are hard of hearing.

“However, I understand why the legislation is needed and I would put that aside for the safety of others.

“It’s much easier for our customers to wear them instead of the shopkeeper, but if that defeats the point then absolutely I’d wear one.”

Rosanna Heasman The Store
Rosanna Heasman at The Store

Rosanna estimates that about a third of her customers already wear a mask when they’re shopping, the majority being the elderly or those with babies.

Other town centre shopkeepers the Bedford Independent spoke to over the weekend estimated under 10% of their customers to currently be wearing masks.

A convenience store owner said, “Customers I’ve spoken to have said they have never worn one so why now. And they are not too happy about it either.

“My take on it is that it should have been implemented from day one. That why the virus would have spread less and people would have gotten used to it.”

Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, warned that retailers could not be held responsible for enforcing the new policy.

“Retailers have made the safety of staff and customers their top priority and we support measures aimed at protecting the health of the public,” she said.

“While retailers will play their part in communicating the new rules on face coverings, they must not be the ones enforcing these rules.

“With hundreds of incidents of violence and abuse directed at retail staff every day, we welcome the announcement that enforcement will be left to the authorities, rather than potentially putting hardworking retail colleagues in harm’s way.

“We look forward to further clarity over whether the wearing of face coverings will apply to shop staff.

“If so, there must be flexibility for colleagues who are in stores all day and can already benefit from other safety measures such as protective screens and 2m distancing.

“Retailers have already spent hundreds of millions installing perspex screens, implementing social distancing measures and providing additional cleaning in stores; we hope this announcement will make shoppers feel even more confident about returning to the high street.”

Keep Local news Alive in Bedfordshire