Downing Street asked to explain why ministers are avoiding face coverings in public

PUBLISHED: 16:40 10 July 2020 | UPDATED: 17:20 10 July 2020

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak speaks to CEO of Worcester Bosch, Carl Arntzen (left) during his visit to Worcester Bosch factory to promote the initiative, Plan for Jobs. (Phil Noble/PA Wire)

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak speaks to CEO of Worcester Bosch, Carl Arntzen (left) during his visit to Worcester Bosch factory to promote the initiative, Plan for Jobs. (Phil Noble/PA Wire)

Number 10 is facing calls to explain why ministers are not using face coverings in public after several government figures have been spotted without them in the last few weeks.

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New data from Office for National Statistics shows that 52% of adults in Britain had worn a face covering in public during the final week of June, up from 43% on the week before.

Another 58% of the 1,788 adults quizzed between July 2-5 stated they were very likely to wear one in the next seven days.

With the number of people covering up on the rise, many are scratching their heads as to why so few ministers are following suit.

Boris Johnson has not been seen wearing a face covering while chancellor Rishi Sunak failed to don one when he was pictured serving food to customers at a Wagamama restaurant in central London.

Government recommendations as part of the “one metre-plus” guidance are that measures such as wearing a face covering should be taken if people indoors cannot keep two metres away from each other.

A spokesman for the prime minister, asked about ministers not wearing face masks, said: “I don’t spend my time with individual ministers but all the ministers abide by the social distancing guidance which is in place.”

Sunak has also been spotted greeting people this week by bumping elbows to avoid shaking hands.

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When asked whether such a gesture was in line with social distancing rules, the spokesman said: “The guidance is clear that you should stay two metres apart where you can.

“If that’s not possible, it is one metre, plus mitigation, and that mitigation has been set out in the guidance.”

Among government figures seen sporting a face covering is culture minister Caroline Dinenage who told reporters that she wore one “all the time” and said “a lot” of her colleagues were doing the same.

Health secretary Matt Hancock has been seen wearing a face covering while visiting a hospital and culture secretary Oliver Dowden also used one while attending a gallery this week.

Asked whether England would follow Holyrood and introduce laws to make mask wearing compulsory in public arenas, Dinenage said: “We have said face coverings in closed spaces is advised, but people can use their own discretion - but of course we will keep this under review.

“This is a topic upon which scientists tend to have rather different views so we are looking at it as new scientific studies emerge.”

The president of the Royal Society, Professor Venki Ramakrishna, has recommended that everyone should wear a face covering in public to reduce the risk of a second wave of Covid-19 infections.

Meanwhile, London mayor Sadiq Khan has repeated his call for face coverings to be made compulsory in public, telling the PM in a letter that he was “disappointed and frustrated” that the government had not demanded masks be worn in “busy and enclosed public places”.

The Labour politician added: “Face coverings are not only vital for public health. They could play an increasing role in supporting public confidence and our economic recovery.”

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