BRITS could wear face masks in shops until 2021 with coverings becoming the “new normal” unless a covid-19 vaccine is found.
New rules mean coverings must be worn in shops from July 24 with those flouting the law in England facing a £100 fine.
Shopkeepers have even been told to dob in lawbreaking customers to cops – but officers have warned it will be impossible to police.
And government insiders hinted that Brits could be walking into the new normal until a coronavirus vaccine is found.
One Cabinet source told the Mirror: “We are not doing this with a timeline in mind. This is part of the new normal.
“Until we get a vaccine we are going to have to be doing a lot of these things.
“We are not going to be doing this for a few weeks and then giving up. It’s part of a wider package of measures, such a social distancing.”
Another Government source added: “I don’t think anybody can know how long it will be but you have to assume we’ll be wearing masks for a while.”
It comes has the UK death toll hit 44,968 with 291,373 confirmed cases.
And deaths among shop workers were staggeringly 75% higher for men and 60% higher for women than among the general public, health secretary Matt Hancock revealed.
He told the Commons: “The liability for wearing a face covering lies with the individual.
“Should an individual without an exemption refuse to wear a face covering, a shop can refuse them entry and can call the police if people refuse to comply.
“The police have formal enforcement powers and can issue a fine.”
Ahead of the government announcement that shoppers would be legally forced to wear coverings, Prime Minister Boris Johnson stressed masks have a “great deal of value.”
He told the BBC: “In shops it is very important to wear a face covering if you are going to be in a confined space and you want to protect other people and receive protection in turn.”
He added: “People have shown amazing sensitivity towards other people and understanding of the needs to get the virus down by doing things cooperatively. Wearing masks is one of them.
“In a confined space you are protecting other people from the transmission you might be giving off. They in turn are protecting you. It is a mutual thing.”
But ministers have been visibly divided about wearing masks in shops, with some covering up while others did not bother.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove was mask-free leaving a Pret a Manger in Westminster at just after 8am.
Minutes earlier, Trade Secretary Liz Truss emerged from the same branch with her face covered.
Doctors have insisted masks are crucial to slow the spread of coronavirus and make life safer for the most vulnerable.
Chair of the British Medical Association’s Medical Academic Staff Committee and Exeter University lecturer Dr David Strain said: “We need masks to slow the spread and make life safer for the most vulnerable to go about essential activities.
“Yesterday more than 500 people tested positive for the virus, which the ONS figures suggest is only about a third of the true number of new cases in the UK.
“The remaining two thirds of the population with the virus are the ‘silent spreaders’, people who carry and can potentially spread the virus despite having no symptoms themselves.
“The mandatory use of face coverings will reduce the risk to the population at large from these individuals.”
Leicester University respiratory scientist Dr Julian Tang said: “Most of the world’s population is still susceptible to this virus, and we are still not sure how long any post-infection immunity will last.
“So if people can get used to all these precautions now, it will reduce the numbers of Covid-19 deaths over a longer-term.”
Environment Secretary George Eustice also refused to rule out compulsory masks being extended to offices while Mr Hancock hinted to the commons the new rules could be extended to other workplaces “in chunks”.
On Monday a top scientist warned that a coronavirus vaccine might not even be ready next year in a sobering prediction that dashes hopes of a cure being found at the end of this year or early in 2021.
Face coverings were already mandated to be worn on public transport since June 15.