Ministers accused of 'making it up as they go along' amid facemask confusion

23 July 2020, 07:02

Ministers have caused confusion with mixed messages on face mask use
Ministers have caused confusion with mixed messages on face mask use. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Confusion over wearing face coverings in takeaways and sandwich shops in England must be clarified by the Government, opposition MPs have said.

The Government has made face-coverings mandatory in shops and supermarkets from Friday, July 24.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced anyone failing to comply with the rules will face a fine of up to £100.

But, the new regulations will not be published until Thursday, less than 24 hours before they come into force and ministers have been accused of not providing enough clarity.

Read more: Facemask Friday - what are the new rules?

Ministers have been accused of "making things up as they go along" over the rules for takeaways and sandwich shops.

The criticism came after days of mixed messages with Mr Hancock and Boris Johnson's official spokesman contradicting each other on the matter.

On Thursday morning the Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis told LBC the new face-covering rules will not apply to "hospitality generally" but "if you are going into a takeaway place to eat or drink in there, then no you don't have to wear face masks."

The Minister clarified "if you are treating it like a shop, buying your sandwich and your coffee and leaving again," then "you should be wearing a face mask."

He denied the Government was sending out mixed messages over the new rules.

But the Prime Minister's official spokesman later 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.

"It is mandatory ... we are talking about supermarkets and other shops rather than food shops."

The Daily Telegraph reported early on Thursday that people using sandwich shops and takeaways will be required to wear a mask, and buying food from the counter and then sitting down to eat inside the shop will be banned.

The newspaper reported a source as saying: "You have to sit down straight away if you are going to eat in. If you can sit at a table, you don't need to wear a mask."The Government refused to confirm the report ahead of the formal announcement on Thursday.

Under the new regulations, people will need to have their nose and mouth covered or be liable for a fine of up to £100. However, those with certain disabilities will be exempt.

They will bring England into line with Scotland, where face coverings are already mandatory in shops.

Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Munira Wilson said that with just a day to go to the new rules being enforced, the Government was in a mess.

She told the reporters: "People need a Government that can offer genuine reassurances and steer the country to safety.

"After all, 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.

"The Government must urgently provide the clarity businesses need to operate and people need to feel safe."

Passengers have been required to wear face coverings on public transport in England since last month.

The former head of the civil service Lord O'Donnell told peers on Wednesday the Government needed to improve its communications.

Giving evidence to the Lords Public Services Committee, he said: "If anyone knows what the clear message on masks is, please tell me."