Shop staff will not enforce ‘personal responsibility’ to wear a mask, minister says

Shop assistants will not be enforcing the new rule requiring mask-wearing in England which is the public’s “personal responsibility”, the health minister says.

Gillian Keegan backed supermarket bosses who warned that challenging shoppers would lead to “confrontation” – saying it was up to the police to issue any fines for non-compliance.

The minister sought to reassure shop owners after the heads of Iceland and the Co-op insisted it is not their job to tell shoppers to put on a mask or risk punishment.

“It’s not for everybody to be going around being policed by shop assistants – not at all. We all have to do the right thing,” Ms Keegan agreed.

The comments came as the minister admitted more people will have to isolate as cases of the Omicron variant rise – putting their Christmas plans at risk – but said “the chance of that right now is pretty low”.

Meanwhile, the head of the UK Health Security Agency chief said a work from home rule is still on the table, if the Covid situation worsens, despite ministers rejecting the move for now.

Dr Jenny Harries said: “Certainly, if we see surges, then working from home will be a good thing to do,” – pointing to the Sage group’s advice that it would be the most effective infection-curbing measure.

She urged all people to “decrease our social contacts a little bit” and avoid “socialising when we don’t particularly need to” in the next few weeks, raising fresh doubts over festive celebrations.

From 4am on Tuesday, face coverings are required in takeaways, post offices, banks and building societies, beauty premises and pharmacists, as well as in shops and on public transport and in taxis.

People who refuse will be fined an initial £200, rising to £400 for a second offence and £800 for a third – but only if the crackdown is enforced.

Ahead of a Commons vote – and opposition from Tory backbenchers – the health secretary Sajid Javid stressed the rules, including isolation for Omicron contacts and PCR tests for international arrivals, are in place for 3 weeks.

“If it emerges that this variant is no more dangerous than the Delta variant, then we won’t keep measures in place for a day longer than necessary,” he told MPs.

Ms Keegan said supermarkets had done “an absolutely brilliant job of keeping our shelves supplied under very trying circumstances” and sympathised with them about mask rules.

“It is actually the British public’s personal responsibility to follow the rules to wear the masks,” she told the BBC, “and clearly there has been occasions where that’s been confrontational.”

The minister also downplayed the idea of “more patrols” to enforce face coverings – insisting the government could rely on the “good sense of British people”.

“We haven’t been completely draconian, as some other countries have, and so far that’s worked pretty well, because the British public have responded,” she claimed.

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