‘If it saves a life, wearing a mask is worth it’
Peter Barnes, 29, came down with Covid-19 in March and made a full recovery. So it’s perhaps not surprising that he is happy about the government’s plan to make wearing face masks in shops compulsory in England from 24 July.
The political consultant from London was bed-bound with the virus for nine days and could barely eat.
“I think it’s an incredibly self-centred opinion if you’re refusing to wear a mask because you are mildly inconvenienced while buying a loaf of bread,” he tells the BBC.
“If we can save one life, then wearing a mask in the supermarket for an hour or so has got to be entirely worth it.”
However, Mr Barnes thinks the government has “confused people” in the past with its policies, and fears it will not properly enforce this one.
‘Quick to judge’
He also worries that false information about face masks is spreading on social media and might stop people from following the rules.
“Think about other people. You might not get it, but you might give it to someone else.”
Not everyone thinks the government’s plan is a good idea, however. Daisy Louise Simpson, 32, has severe asthma and says the new rule is stressing her out.
“With my asthma as bad as it is, I struggle to breathe and the mask adds another complication,” the Essex-based actress says.
The government has said that people with certain disabilities will be exempt from wearing masks and has already made concessions for those with breathing difficulties on public transport.
However, Daisy worries that if she is the only one not wearing a mask in a shop she will stand out.
“People are already quick to judge – I worry that if my asthma is bad, will people assume I have coronavirus and be abusive?”
“If you can wear a mask, you should do it. It shouldn’t be up for discussion,” she stresses.
“But I don’t think it should be mandatory – I think we risk the possibility of ostracising disabled people.”
‘We should have done it ages ago’
Deborah Hiscock, 47, a genealogist from Southampton welcomes the policy but questions why England did not do it sooner.
“I personally think people should have been wearing masks in shops ever since the World Health Organisation said we were in a pandemic. We should have been following other countries’ leads.”
However, she worries about the risk of transmission in shops and says it is “better late than never”.
“We don’t know if there will be a second wave [of infections], so I think it will be worth it.”
Some unions and business groups have warned that making shoppers wear masks could “trigger abuse” from some customers. Some also fear it will put some shoppers off at a time when retailers need consumer confidence to return.
JD Sports chairman Peter Cowgill told the BBC’s Today programme on Tuesday the move was likely to impact footfall, particularly at indoor shopping centres.
“I think it’s the inconsistency and the indecisiveness of the messaging that impacts consumer confidence,” he added.
“Maybe it will be a positive for older customers, but a deterrent for younger ones.”
Antiques shop owner Mary Foster in Weybridge is most concerned about how security will be affected.
“We have already had two robberies and three attempted robberies,” she tells the BBC. “I think people will feel more empowered to try to steal things [if they come in wearing masks].”
Ms Foster’s shop has CCTV cameras, which have so far been useful in apprehending two suspects. But if all customers wear masks, the video cameras will be unable to identify individuals.
Debbie, who works at a small supermarket in Fulham, says she worries about having to enforce the new policy.
“We don’t have much staff so how are we are going to make sure people coming in are abiding by the rules?
“Already people don’t really use the one-way system we have in the store and often they don’t stand two metres apart either.
“When we tell them they argue,” she says.