Question remains on whether shop workers will be required to wear face coverings

It is unclear whether shop workers will be made to wear a face covering while commuters will be forced to wear one on public transport.

At the Downing Street press briefing on Wednesday, a question from a member of the public, Ruth from Bournemouth, asked whether gloves and masks will be essential for those serving food and drinks, as more non-essential shops are set to reopen in England on Monday.

The reopening of stores will also coincide with new face covering measures which require everyone using public transport in England, as well as all hospital visitors and outpatients, to wear a face covering.

When making the announcement on face-coverings on Thursday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said commuters can be refused travel if they did not comply and could be fined.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson did not say whether face coverings will be essential for shop workers, stating the Government will be setting out “all sorts of guidelines” for retailers on how to run stores in a Covid-secure way.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the Downing Street briefing (Pippa Fowles/10 Downing Street/Crown Copyright)

“The basic guidance on masks, as you know, is that you wear a face covering when you’re likely to be in close contact with people that you don’t normally meet,” he said at the press briefing.

Relaying the advice from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) on face coverings, Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, said: “Face coverings have potential benefit in situations where there’s indoor spaces where people cannot socially distance, where they are potentially crowded and they will come into contact with multiple people.”

He said the advice from Sage should form the basis of risk assessment for any workplace to decide what should be done.

But Sir Patrick and Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, focused their answers more on the use of gloves and hand washing in a workplace setting, leaving it unclear whether shop workers will be made to wear a face mask in the same way commuters will be from Monday.

Sir Patrick said: “It’s absolutely the case that touching and surface contact is a major form spreading this disease, and therefore other measures, including the wearing of gloves, can be important in certain circumstances.”

Prof Whitty added: “If someone touches a surface repeatedly without changing gloves that’s actually less good than someone washing their hands between every time they do it.

“So hand washing absolutely critical, gloves can be useful under certain circumstances.”

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