A cabinet minister has claimed “people are still learning how to use face coverings” after the home secretary was pictured wearing a mask when meeting her French counterpart outside – but not wearing one when they spoke indoors.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week served notice that tougher rules on wearing face masks could be on the way.
Currently, official UK government guidance states that evidence around wearing a face covering suggests it “does not protect you” from coronavirus.
But the guidance adds: “If you are infected but have not yet developed symptoms, it may provide some protection for others you come into close contact with.”
In England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, face coverings are mandatory when travelling on public transport.
Face coverings are also mandatory in Scottish shops, although that is not the case in England.
People in Wales are being asked to wear face coverings where social distancing is not possible, but they have not been made mandatory.
Asked on Sky News’ Kay Burley @ Breakfast show when he himself wears a face mask, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said: “I wear a face mask in an enclosed space if I’m going somewhere I’ve not been before.
“So that might be a small shop or it might be somewhere like a pharmacy. I carry one with me.
“I think it’s important I do my bit to not only prevent inadvertent transmission but, also, to reassure other people that the space they are in is as safe as possible.”
On Sunday, Priti Patel met French interior minister Gerald Darmanin in Calais for talks about migration and border security.
The home secretary was pictured greeting Mr Darmanin in a mask on her arrival, but she wasn’t wearing one when they spoke inside.
She was later pictured wearing a mask inside during a larger meeting of UK and French ministers and officials.
Coronavirus: Can face coverings really protect you?
Asked whether Ms Patel had presented a confusing message on mask-wearing, Mr Buckland said: “I think people are still learning how to use face coverings.
“Other countries, we have seen, have habitual use of them and people are very, very experienced in knowing how to use them.”
The justice secretary added: “If I was going to the corner shop very near here, where I go, I think slapping a face covering on is a sensible and safe thing to do.”
The government has been criticised for offering mixed messages on face coverings, but Mr Buckland stressed “people need to be trusted to come to their own judgements”.
“I think the common sense of the British people is something politicians underestimate at their peril,” he said.
Mr Buckland added: “The point that I’m making is that it’s important we give as much confidence to those people who have yet to venture out, because there are a number of people who still feel unsure.
“Let’s not forget we’ve got a large number of people who are shielding. The shield finishes at the end of the month.
“I want to make sure people in that category feel confident and safe to be able to go into their local shop… and feel that other people are being courteous and giving them as much of a safe space as possible.”