Confusion abounds over government policy on wearing face coverings in sandwich shops – as Downing Street appeared to change its guidance to defend Michael Gove.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, had said that masks would need to be worn in shops when the law is enforced to tackle the spread of coronavirus in England from 24 July.
However, Number 10 later said that there would be exemptions for takeaway purchases.
The contradiction came after Gove, the minister for the Cabinet Office, was photographed uncovered in Pret A Manger in Westminster – after insisting that it was “basic good manners” to wear a mask.
Gove was pictured mask-less just minutes after Development Secretary Liz Truss had left the exact same shop wearing a blue face mask.
‘In any shop, you do need a mask’
Questioned over which of his Cabinet colleagues was correct, Hancock told Sky News: “You do need to wear a mask in Pret because Pret is a shop.
“If there’s table service, it is not necessary to have a mask. But in any shop, you do need a mask. So if you’re going up to the counter in Pret to buy takeaway that is a shop… but if you go to your local pub you can’t go to the bar.”
But Boris Johnson’s official spokesman later gave an alternative explanation.
He 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.”
Hancock defended Gove by saying that the photographs had been snapped “before I announced the change in policy to the House of Commons”, on Tuesday afternoon. But the pictures had been taken that morning – after the policy was announced in a press release to journalist.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who was previously criticised for not wearing a face covering during a visit to Wagamama, later came down on the side of wearing masks in Pret when he posted an image of himself during a well-covered visit to the sandwich chain.
The law change announced in the Commons on Tuesday afternoon came after a period of confusion, which Labour seized on as “days of ministerial muddle”.
On Friday, Mr Johnson said the Government was looking at “stricter” rules.
But on Sunday Mr Gove said he did not believe face coverings should be mandatory and that it was better to “trust people’s common sense”, adding that it was “basic good manners” to cover up in shops.
However, the Cabinet disagreement was won by those in favour of masks, and failure to wear face coverings in shops in England can be punished with a £100 fine from July 24.