Members of the public are to be told that from July 24 they will need to wear face coverings in shops and supermarkets in England or face a fine of up to £100.
Speaking to Pharmacy Network News, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson confirmed this would also apply to community pharmacies.
The announcement follows weeks of uncertainty over whether face coverings would be a recommendation or a requirement, with environment secretary Michael Gove saying as recently as the weekend that the Government “trusted people’s good sense” to wear them without compulsion.
A Government spokesperson said of the turnaround: “There is growing evidence that wearing a face covering in an enclosed space helps protect individuals and those around them from coronavirus.
“The prime minister has been clear that people should be wearing face coverings in shops and we will make this mandatory from July 24.”
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “Given the Government’s own guidance issued on May 22 advised in favour of face masks, many will ask why yet again ministers have been slow in making a decision in this pandemic and why it will take another 11 days before these new guidelines come into force.”
The Government claims the delay is needed to pass the relevant legislation and will give shops time to prepare.
Scotland introduced a similar measure last Friday. In Wales and Northern Ireland, masks are advised in shops but not compulsory.
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has campaigned for some time to make face coverings mandatory in all community pharmacies during the pandemic.
Responding to today’s announcement, RPS president Sandra Gidley told PNN: “Pharmacists and their teams continue to see patients on the frontline during Covid-19. Alongside maintaining social distancing, making it mandatory for people to wear face-coverings when visiting community pharmacies and general practice will help further protect staff and patients.
“Coronavirus is still a threat to pharmacy and all those working on the frontline, so it is important that everyone does their bit to better protect themselves and reduce the spread of the virus.”