Making face coverings mandatory in shops in England is being considered by the government to slow the spread of coronavirus, senior sources have said.

Speaking in a Facebook Q&A video, Boris Johnson hinted at the change saying: “We are looking at ways of making sure that people really do have face coverings in shops.”

Face coverings have been compulsory in shops in Scotland since 10 July.

Mr Johnson also said “people should be going back to work if they can now.”

Responding to a question about extending the furlough scheme the prime minister said: “I think everybody has sort of taken the ‘stay at home if you can’ – I think we should now say, well, ‘go back to work if you can’.

“I think it’s very important that people should try to lead their lives more normally.”

The UK government was initially hesitant about advising people to wear face coverings, arguing that evidence that they reduce transmission was “weak”.

However, rules compelling people to wear face masks on public transport in England were introduced on 15 June.

And speaking on Friday Mr Johnson said “the balance of scientific opinion seems to have shifted more in favour of them than it was, and we’re very keen to follow that”.

“I don’t think we are going to get to a world where we say everyone has to wear face coverings the whole time everywhere,” he said, but added “We need to be stricter in insisting that people wear face coverings in confined spaces where they are meeting people they don’t usually meet.

“The future for the country has got to be a world where we are managing the virus so effectively with local lockdowns, test and trace that we don’t need ultimately to have some of these social distancing measures.”

Those exempt from wearing face coverings include children under 11, people with disabilities, those with breathing difficulties and anyone travelling with someone who relies on lip reading.

The rules on face covering vary across the nations. In Scotland face coverings are mandatory in shops and on public transport.

People in Wales are being asked to wear non-medical face coverings where social distancing is not possible – including on public transport – but the government in Cardiff stopped short of making their use mandatory.

While in Northern Ireland, plans to make wearing face coverings on public transport compulsory have been put on hold, pending legal clarification.

The World Health Organization says non-medical face coverings should be worn where social distancing is not possible.

And president of the Royal Society, Prof Sir Venki Ramakrishnan expressed concern that the UK is “way behind” other countries in terms of face mask usage.

He said the government’s guidelines had been inconsistent adding: “What we would like for the government is to be a bit stronger and clearer about the messaging and require it whenever you are in crowded public spaces where you cannot get more than 2m away from the next person.

Homemade cloth face coverings can help reduce the spread of coronavirus from people who are contagious but have no symptoms or are yet to develop symptoms.

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