Face coverings must be worn in shops and supermarkets in England from Friday 24 July, Boris Johnson has announced.
Enforcement will be carried out by police – not retail staff – and anyone failing to wear a face covering while shopping will face a fine of up to £100, or £50 if paid within 14 days.
The rules to tackle coronavirus will be the same as those currently applicable on public transport in England, which means children under 11 and people with certain disabilities will be exempt, reports Sky News.
The wearing of face coverings became compulsory in Scotland last week and around 120 countries – including Germany, Spain, Italy and Greece – now require coverings to be worn in public places.
Announcing the move, a Number 10 spokesperson said: “There is growing evidence that wearing a face covering in an enclosed space helps protect individuals and those around them from coronavirus.
“The prime minister has been clear that people should be wearing face coverings in shops and we will make this mandatory from July 24.”
The decision, due to be outlined by Health Secretary Matt Hancock in a Commons statement on Tuesday afternoon, follows four days of conflicting statements from ministers and demands from opposition MPs for clarity.
Responding to the announcement confirming mandatory face coverings, shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said: “The government has been slow and muddled again over face coverings.
“Given the government’s own guidance issued on May 11 advised in favour of face masks, many will ask why yet again have ministers been slow in making a decision in this pandemic, and why it’ll take another 11 days before these new guidelines to come into force.”
London mayor Sadiq Khan went further and called the government’s “confused communications” on the subject a “disgrace”.
“We can’t afford to wait another day and the government should bring this policy in immediately – further delay risks lives,” he urged.
And the British Chambers of Commerce’s co-executive director Claire Walker said: “Businesses need clarity on the approach to the wearing of face coverings that is consistent and supported by public health evidence.
“Shops and other indoor businesses need to know what the new rules are as soon as possible.
“Updated guidance, including on enforcement, should be issued swiftly so firms can maintain their COVID-secure status and continue their operations successfully.”