Downing Street has contradicted Matt Hancock on whether face coverings will be compulsory in sandwich shops after he defended Cabinet colleague Michael Gove’s maskless purchase in Pret A Manger.
The Health Secretary said coverings would need to be worn in shops when the law is enforced to tackle the coronavirus spread in England from July 24.
But No 10 later said there would be an exemption for takeaway purchases.
The contradiction came after senior Cabinet Office minister Mr Gove, who had earlier sparked confusion by suggesting face coverings would not be compulsory, was photographed uncovered in Pret A Manger despite insisting it was “basic good manners” to wear a mask.
It was in stark contrast to International Development Secretary Liz Truss, who minutes earlier had left the same shop in Westminster wearing a blue covering.
Questioned over who was correct, Mr Hancock told Sky News: “You do need to wear a face 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 Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman later gave an alternative explanation.
“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,” he said.
“It is mandatory … we are talking about supermarkets and other shops rather than food shops.”
Mr Hancock had defended Mr Gove by saying that the photographs were taken “before I announced the change in policy to the House of Commons” on Tuesday afternoon.
However, the pictures were taken on Tuesday morning, after the policy was announced in a press release to journalists.
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.
Shadow health minister Justin Madders said the Government’s position was “hopeless”.
“We have had mixed messages from Government all week and it seems that once again they are making it up as they go along,” he said.
“We need clear and consistent messages about when the wearing of a face covering will be compulsory, not attempts at redefining what a shop is.
“Public safety and confidence are key to preventing a second wave and the Government need to raise their game in ensuring that everyone knows when the wearing of a mask is required.”