Tory MP Sir Desmond Swayne has said forcing people to wear a face covering in shops to prevent the spread of coronavirus is a “monstrous imposition”, despite the high death rate among retail workers.
Anyone failing to comply with the new rules could face a fine of up to £100.
The health secretary told MPs the death rate among sales assistants was 75% higher amongst men and 60% higher amongst women than in the general population. “We must keep our shop keepers safe,” he said.
“In recent weeks we have reopened retail and footfall is rising. We want to give people more confidence to shop safely and enhance protection for those who work in shops.
“Both of these can be done by the use of face coverings.”
But Swayne, the MP for New Forest West, complained: “Nothing would make me less likely to go shopping than the thought of having to mask up.
“Was this consultation with the police force and particularly the chief constable of Hampshire, for it is she that will have to enforce this monstrous imposition against myself and a number of outraged and reluctant constituents?”
Hancock told him the public had been “remarkable in their fortitude” by sticking to the rules and enforcement would “largely be undertaken by the British people themselves”.
“The balance in the need to restrict the spread of the virus, whilst also allowing the ancient liberties of a gentleman to go shopping, is a difficult balance to strike and we have made the judgment that the best way to strike it is to allow a gentleman to go shopping, but require him to wear a face mask,” he added.
Labour MP Chris Bryant told Swayne as he was “a knight of the realm” he “should just consider it a visor”.
Helen Dickinson, the chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said she hoped the enforcement of face coverings would make people “feel even more confident”, not less, about returning to shops.
Hancock also hinted there will be a further extension to locations where face masks and coverings must be worn, telling MPs the measures will be introduced “in chunks”
He said while he did not “anticipate that at this point” it will be extended to pubs and bars, it would be kept “under review”.
The announcement follows a weekend of confusion over whether ministers intended to make face coverings compulsory.
Boris Johnson revealed on Friday he was looking at imposing “stricter” rules.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said on Sunday he did not believe face coverings should be mandatory and that it was better to “trust people’s common sense”.
But less the 48 hours later the government announced people would be forced to wear them.