LONDON — People in England won't be required to wear masks in shops, a British official suggested on Sunday, comments that caused confusion after Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier indicated a tougher line was needed for face coverings indoors.
Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove encouraged people to use masks while inside but stopped short of endorsing their mandatory use in England, saying he trusted people to use "common sense."
His remarks came after Johnson indicated on Friday that the government was considering "stricter" rules for mask use inside, and wore one himself for the first time.
Face coverings are required on public transport across Britain except for Wales, but Scotland has also now made them mandatory in shops. They're widely used in mainland European countries that suffered big outbreaks but less so in in Britain.
Gove dialed back expectations for new rules.
"I think that it is basic good manners, courtesy and consideration, to wear a face mask if you are, for example, in a shop," Gove told the BBC.
"Tough measures will be taken" if necessary, but "it is always best to trust common sense," he said.
Lawmakers from the opposition Labour party called for more clarity.
"We do need to get a lot more confidence back in the system and if the mandatory wearing of face masks in shops will help to do that then we absolutely support it," Lucy Powell, the shadow minister for business and consumers, told Sky News.
Johnson had said in an online question-and-answer session with the British public that his government was following expert opinion on face coverings, which had shifted more in favor of their use over the course of the pandemic.
"I do think we need to be stricter in insisting people wear face coverings in confined spaces where they are meeting people they don't normally meet," he said. "We are looking at ways of making sure that people really do have face coverings in shops, for instance, where there is a risk of transmission."