Boris Johnson is set to tell Parliament next week it will be compulsory for Britons to wear face coverings in shops, according to news reports, soon after telling the country that it was only optional do so.
The Times newspaper on Saturday cited an unidentified government official saying it was a “fair assumption masks will become obligatory in other indoor settings within a few weeks.” On Friday, the prime minister said he wanted to be “stricter on insisting people wear coverings in confined spaces.” They’re currently compulsory on public transport and in English hospitals.
Johnson’s administration has come in for steady criticism for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed the lives of about 45,000 people in the UK – by far the highest toll in Europe. Mixed messaging has led to confusion as to what people can and cannot do. Scotland has already made facemasks compulsory in its stores, while the central English town of Leicester has gone back into lockdown.
Johnson is treading a delicate line, trying to foster an environment that will revive an economy facing the twin threats of the pandemic and Brexit, while endeavoring to rein in measures that risk choking off a recovery.
Around the globe, political leaders are realizing that wearing facemasks in certain circumstances can help neuter some of the risk of coronavirus infection. Even President Donald Trump, who has defied guidelines on the issue from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wore a mask Saturday when visiting a hospital in Maryland.