Face masks 'should not be mandatory' in England's shops, says Michael Gove

12 July 2020, 11:04

Michael Gove has encouraged people to go back to work to fire up the economy
Michael Gove has encouraged people to go back to work to fire up the economy. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Face masks and coverings should not be mandatory in shops in England, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove has said.

The Cabinet Office Minister said that although they should not be made compulsory, he would still encourage people to wear them.

It comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested they may become obligatory in shops, saying he wanted to be "stricter" on insisting people wear them.

Speaking on BBC One's The Andrew Marr Show, he said "no" when asked about making them mandatory.

However, he added he "would encourage people to wear face masks when they are inside" or when they are "in an environment where they are likely to be mixing with others and where the ventilation may not be as good as it might."

He said: "I think that it is basic good manners, courtesy and consideration, to wear a face mask if you are, for example, in a shop.

"I trust people's good sense. Now, of course, the Government at all times does look at the emerging evidence about what the best way to control the disease is.

"If necessary, and if tough measures are required and as we have seen in Leicester, obviously a very different situation, then tough measures will be taken.

"But on the whole... it is always best to trust people's common sense."

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Michael Gove has said wearing face coverings in England's shops should not be mandatory
Michael Gove has said wearing face coverings in England's shops should not be mandatory. Picture: PA

In a separate interview with Sky News' Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Mr Gove urged people to return to their workplaces to "fire up" the UK economy.

He confirmed the Government has now scrapped its "work from home" message in favour of advising people to return to work "wherever they can" in order to inject life into the "economic engines" of the UK.

However, he acknowledged there would still be some scenarios where it would remain appropriate for people to continue working from home, although he did not give any examples.

He told Sophy Ridge: "We want to see more people back at work, on the shop floor, in the office, wherever they can be.

"Of course in some cases it is appropriate and convenient for people to work from home, but we want to make sure that where people can add value, where the economy can benefit from people being at work, that they are at work.

"We want to make sure that the economic engines of this country are fired up again."

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He explained that Chancellor Rishi Sunak's economic announcements earlier in the week were made to ensure Britain is "in a position to be able to provide people with safety and security at work, to protect their jobs and to guarantee jobs in the future."

The pandemic had shown that some roles can be effectively performed from home, Mr Gove added.

He also confirmed that some civil service jobs may be moved outside London.

The Cabinet Office Minister said the civil service wanted to enable people to work in areas "other than London" to distribute jobs "more equitably" across the UK.

Asked about reports that the Government wants to move senior civil servants to York, Mr Gove told Sky: "York is not the only place where we can redeploy some of the essential decision-makers who form part of our brilliant civil service.

"We're looking at different locations across the United Kingdom."

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He also insisted the NHS Test and Trace system was one people could trust.

Asked during the Sky interview whether it was a system people could have confidence in, he said: "Yes - it absolutely is.

"There are a number of challenges of course in making sure that we reach those people who have been in contact with those who test positive.

"And there are some specific factors which mean that in certain areas making sure that we can make contact is more challenging."

Mr Gove also explained that wearing a face covering "definitely helps you to help others in enclosed space."

"Face masks are appropriate in some settings and not in others... wearing a face mask when you are out and about outdoors is significantly less necessary than when you are indoors."

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Meanwhile, Labour's shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves backed calls for the compulsory wearing of face coverings in shops.

Asked if she supported making it mandatory to wear face masks in shops, Ms Reeves told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "Yes, I think that would be a sensible way forward.

"I think people are increasingly wearing them but I think some greater clarity from Government about that, I think, would be helpful.

"People want to do the right thing but they want to know what the right thing is. We already have it on public transport.

"I think it would inspire greater confidence and might encourage more people to go out and spend money if they see more people wearing face masks in shops."

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