HAND sanitiser, perspex screens and two-metre markers are already a familiar sight in shops and from July 24, face coverings will be added to that list.

In a statement on Tuesday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said people failing to wear a face covering could be fined up to £100.

He said shopkeepers can refuse entry to people not wearing them, although children under 11 and people with certain disabilities and breathing conditions will be exempt.

Following the announcement, shoppers in Darlington welcomed the news and although only a small proportion of people were wearing masks in the town this afternoon, there was a consensus that making them compulsory was a positive move.

Grandmother Irene Parlour, 83, was out in the town with her granddaughter Amy Hudson, 25, and both had masks with them.

Irene said: “If you are going to be out where there are lots of people then I think it is a good thing to wear one.”

Amy added: “It is a bit confusing when the earlier official guidance was that you don’t really need them and now it is a necessity.

“But overall, we will just do what we are told as long as it is safe and right.”

Dave Wade, 35, is a support worker so has been wearing a face mask since the coronavirus outbreak in March.

The Northern Echo:

Dave Wade, a support worker in Darlington

He said: “I think it’s a shame that the order didn’t happen sooner but I understand there were problems with supplies so maybe it couldn’t have.

“I find it frustrating that people don’t understand more about the virus, I’m not judging people who don’t wear masks but I definitely think it’s better to wear one than not, and seeing so many people not wearing them worries me.”

Alan and Kim Henderson, who were out shopping in Darlington on their 40th wedding anniversary, had masks and disposable gloves with them.

Both said that the messages from officials had been confusing, but they were now pleased there was some clarity.

The Northern Echo:

Kim and Alan Henderson had gloves and masks with them

Kim added: “I think it is a good idea but I don’t understand that if they want it, surely it would be better to bring it in now or even in the next couple of days?”

Meanwhile Julita Berta, 23, believed that the UK had been too slow to react to coronavirus and said things are already relatively normal in her birth country of Poland because they locked down earlier and made face masks compulsory.

She added: “I don’t mind wearing a mask, I already have one in my bag, and I hope it helps because I worry that just because we have a bit of freedom now, it could all be taken away again if the coronavirus comes back.”

The Northern Echo:

Julita Berta hopes mask stop the virus returning

Market trader Robin Blair believes compulsory face coverings are a good idea, but is concerned that it may put some people off -particularly the elderly - from visiting shops.

Supermarket shopper Frances Ingham, 48, from Darlington, wore a mask for the first time when shopping in Sainsbury’s in the town.

She said: "It wasn't the most comfortable thing I've ever worn, but we've got to get used to it. If it keeps the virus out I'm happy to wear it.

"I'd say probably something like 60 or 70 per cent of people were wearing masks in the store - definitely more than I'd seen wearing them before."

The Northern Echo:

Darlington Market trader Robin Blair

Visitors to Bishop Auckland Retail Shopping Park today shared similar views to those in Darlington, although sisters Megan and Margaret Jones, 24 and 15, from Hunwick, felt it was almost pointless to introduce masks at this stage of the pandemic.

Megan said: “I don’t feel there is much point, we wore them at the start and they’re really uncomfortable.”

Margaret added: “They’re really difficult to wear with glasses too.”

The Northern Echo:

Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston with council staff in masks

Meanwhile, shoppers in Middlesbrough are able to pick up free masks as the council ordered locally-produced coverings.

Mayor Andy Preston said: “Covid is on the retreat right now but it’s definitely coming back. I want Middlesbrough to be ahead of the game and start doing it now we will save local lives and protect local jobs.”