The Handbook
The Handbook

After days of will-they-won’t-they, the government will today announce that face masks are compulsory in shops from 24th July. And you can be fined £100 for not complying.

England will join Scotland and the majority of Europe in insisting that we all wear masks to visit shops, starting in ten days time. Germany, Spain, Italy and Greece already have masks as standard, while a recent poll by YouGov found that only 36% of Brits wear face masks in public compared to 86% in Spain, 83% in Italy, 78% in France and 65% in Germany. The move comes as scientists warn of a potential UK death toll of over 100,000 deaths this Autumn.

The new legislation will require all shoppers to don masks, and while shop assistants won’t be required to enforce the law they will be asked to encourage shoppers. It will fall to the police to make the public conform, doling out £100 fines.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock is expected to make the announcement today, and it comes hot on the heels of a string of announcements opening up businesses along with very encouraging numbers on the progress of the battle against COVID-19. Despite lifting of restrictions and hospitality finally flinging open its doors, the infection rate has remained steady and low, which is all encouraging.

But at a time when we’re being urged to flock to pubs and restaurants, to return to the office ‘if we can’ and once more venture onto public transport, it seems a little jarring to announce that face masks are now to be mandatory. Combined with the sombre news today that government scientists are preparing for a massive second spike killing over 100,000 in autumn, the messaging is incredibly mixed and confusing.

Never has a government so expertly dressed competence in such shambolic clothing!

It’s also unclear why there is a ten day lag time before this comes into force, surely if the science is demanding this move we should be doing it immediately? Not that we need a law to comply with this early, of course (get a face mask here!).

The policy raises some questions, like how will shops enforce laws around ID if they can’t be expected to tell the age of a shopper or demand to see their faces? It’s also another blow to the image of bank robbers who will now have to simply blend into the population and wait their turn in the queue before performing their heists.

And it wouldn’t be a keynote Downing Street coronavirus announcement without the obligatory week of intense speculation as various cabinet members flip-flop around the issue until coming to the same answer we all knew they were going to. Boris famously wore a mask in public for the first time last week for the policy’s ‘pre-announcement’, but then Chancellor Rishi Sunak went bare-face while moonlighting as a Wagamama waiter and Michael Gove decided to muddy the waters even further just two days ago insisting that this wasn’t going to become law.

It’s the same for almost all major announcements, with the policy leaked, the government chasing their tail for a few days, then the policy finally implemented. Never has a government so expertly dressed competence in such shambolic clothing!