A Tory MP has criticised the “monstrous imposition” of shoppers being forced to wear masks to stop the spread of coronavirus.
Sir Desmond Swayne said he was outraged at the policy announced overnight by the government in Westminster that all those entering shops in England will have to wear a face covering – or risk a fine of up to £100.
He claimed several of his constituents in the New Forest were similarly aggrieved at the new law coming into force on 24 July, which is already in place in Scotland and around 120 other countries.
Ministers had been accused of sending mixed messages in recent days about whether masks to stop COVID-19 infections growing would become mandatory.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said on Sunday it was “best to trust people’s common sense” but Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a day later that “people should be wearing” them in shops.
Voicing his anger in parliament on Tuesday, Sir Desmond said: “Nothing would make me less likely to go shopping than the thought of having to mask up.
“Was this consultation with the police force, in particular the chief constable of Hampshire, for it is she that will have to enforce this monstrous imposition against myself and a number of outraged and reluctant constituents?”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the MP: “The balance in the need to restrict the spread of the virus while also allowing the ancient liberties of a gentleman to go shopping is a difficult balance to strike.
“We have made the judgement that the best way to strike it is to allow a gentleman to go shopping but require him to wear a facemask.
“Enforcement is for the police but the enforcement I think will largely be undertaken by the British people themselves, who have been remarkable in their fortitude at sticking with these rules even while they may be a frustrating imposition.”
The debate over whether people should be encouraged or told to wear masks has dragged on for months.
England’s chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty told Sky News at the start of March that “wearing a mask if you don’t have an infection reduces the risk almost not at all”.
But since then, and after more than 44,000 deaths in the UK, Mr Johnson said it has now been established people wearing masks adds a “great deal of value” in controlling the spread of coronavirus.