The government is done playing will-they-won’t-they with one element of public health regulations for now, with new guidance from the Department of Health and Social Care stating that face masks will be compulsory when buying takeaway food or drink from tomorrow, 24 July, but will not be compulsory when dining in.
The decision comes after a succession of ministerial flip-flopping, largely precipitated by Michael Gove not wearing a mask in Pret a Manger, then saying people should wear a mask in Pret a Manger out of manners but not out of safety, and then wearing a mask to Pret a Manger after being told, quite vociferously, and mostly on Twitter, that his position was furiously stupid.
Just as government guidance for restaurants is predicated on individual decision making, this face covering decision — like so many of the government’s public health decisions — appears to have been made in the laboratory of public opinion. The distinction now appears to be being drawn between table service and takeaway, even though the former is likely to involve closer contact between staff and customers, with no potential for protections like screens, which can be introduced at tills. Announcing the news that face masks would not be compulsory in restaurants last week, environment secretary George Eustice said “obviously people have got to eat.”