Retailers have called for clarity from the government with regards to the possibility of face coverings being made mandatory in English shops.

The possibility of England following Scotland’s lead and making face coverings mandatory in shops to slow the spread of coronavirus was first raised by prime minister Boris Johnson last Friday.

However, cabinet office minister Michael Gove walked that possibility back on Sunday when he said that, while face coverings inside shops are “basic good manners”, they would not become mandatory.

Gove said the government trusted “people’s good sense” on the issue, despite the prime minister wearing a mask on a visit to his constituency of Uxbridge last Friday. Johnson said then that “the balance of scientific opinion seems to have shifted more in favour of them than it was, and we’re very keen to follow that”.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has said that any changes to the guidance around face masks must be introduced with time for retailers to prepare.

BRC director of business and regulation Tom Ironside said: “Retailers prioritise the safety of their staff and customers, and support measures aimed at protecting the health of the public. Any changes to the government guidance must be provided with sufficient lead time to allow retailers to prepare as necessary.

“If government chooses to make the wearing of masks mandatory in shops, it must put in place effective methods of enforcement that do not put retail colleagues in harm’s way.”