Boris Johnson has said face masks should be worn in shops, but added that a Government announcement on whether or not they should be mandatory will be made ‘in the next few days’.

The Prime Minister hinted they could be made compulsory after he was pictured wearing one for the first time while visiting shops and takeaways in his constituency of Uxbridge.

But his comments appeared to be contradicted by Michael Gove, who suggested on Sunday it was ‘best to trust people’s common sense’ rather than force people to wear them. The Government’s message seemed to be further muddled this morning when Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said he would ‘perhaps’ support making them mandatory in public.

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During a visit to the London Ambulance Service’s headquarters on Monday, Mr Johnson, again pictured wearing a face mask, told reporters: ‘Yes, face coverings, I think people should be wearing in shops, and in terms of how we do that – whether we will be making that mandatory or not – we will be looking at the guidance, we will be saying a little bit more in the next few days.’

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The PM said: ‘They have a great deal of value in confined spaces where you’re coming into contact with people you don’t normally meet.

‘The scientific evaluation of face coverings and their importance on stopping aerosol droplets, that’s been growing, so I do think that in shops it is very important to wear a face covering if you’re going to be in a confined space and you want to protect other people and receive protection in turn.’

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He added: ‘We will be looking in the next few days about exactly how, with what tools of enforcement, we think we want to make progress (over coronavirus).

‘As the virus comes down in incidence and we have more and more success, I think face coverings are a kind of extra insurance we can all use to stop it coming back and stop it getting out of control again.

‘To be absolutely clear I do think that face coverings do have a real value in confined spaces and I do think the public understand that.’

Labour has demanded ‘clarity’ on the Government’s position and has requested that Health Secretary Matt Hancock come to the Commons on Monday to provide Parliament with a ‘clear message’.

Shadow health secretary Johnathan Ashworth wrote to Mr Hancock saying: ‘The confusion around the use of face coverings and whether they will become mandatory needs to be addressed through a statement from ministers as a matter of priority.

‘Conflicting advice and conflicting statements from the Government only hinder our fight against the virus. Clear communication is vital in combating the spread of Covid-19.

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‘For the public to know that they are doing the right thing in shops, restaurants and other crowded places, I am asking that you urgently set out the position on face coverings.

‘As lockdown rules are further relaxed this week, it is vital that updated guidance on this issue is published by the Government without delay.’

The call for ministers to make face coverings mandatory in shops in England has been growing following First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s decision to change the rule in Scotland as of Friday.

Dr Venki Ramakrishnan, president of the Royal Society, told Good Morning Britain that the evidence on face coverings had ‘shifted’.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) member said: ‘It’s (evidence) now quite strongly in favour of using face coverings in enclosed spaces where we’re likely to come into contact with strangers.

‘I think that the Government should be very clear. It’s not consistent to make it mandatory on public transport and not make it mandatory in other enclosed and busy public spaces because the behaviour of the virus is the same in all of these spaces.’

James Daunt, managing director of Waterstones book stores, said asking customers to wear a face covering was a ‘reasonable measure’.

When asked if the policy could boost shopper confidence, he told the Today programme: ‘I don’t think it is a huge factor, but I also think if it reassures people, then it is a perfectly reasonable measure to take.’

But he said staff working across his chain of stores would not be asked to ‘police’ the wearing of coverings.

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Mr Daunt added: ‘There will be a tiny, tiny minority of people who will be confrontational over it and it is not the position of shop workers to enter into that situation.

‘We shouldn’t put ourselves in confrontational positions, but I think we can, as retailers, if we are requested to do so, clearly tell everybody it is a sensible thing to do.’

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