If you own a brick and mortar business, you may be asking yourself whether your customers and employees should be wearing face masks. In Germany, face masks are compulsory in all public spaces, with even the state of Thuringia requiring that workers wear them, in offices. In Spain, all people are required to wear a face mask unless they are able to keep a 1.5 metre distance.

In the UK things are a bit more relaxed. Although we have to wear masks on public transport, nowhere else is it compulsory. Naturally, the all important question is, who's right?

The British Medical Association has said that the UK's guidelines on face masks are incoherent and that face masks should be made mandatory when inside. Current British strategy does look rather illogical and lacking in consistency. How can the virus be a risk to people sitting in an enclosed train carriage, but not be a risk in an enclosed retail shop? Each environment has numerous members of the public entering and leaving.

The problem with face masks is that research on the subject isn't very clear. During the early stages of the pandemic the USA discouraged the usage of masks because valuable supplies were being diverted from the medical community. In a medical setting where the risk of transmission is high, face masks most definitely decrease the risk of transmission.

However in a general setting evidence becomes a lot more opaque. People move their masks at regular intervals, touching their face, chin and foreheads. Any harmful viruses have the potential to spread. Some experts suggest that wearing a mask can actually increase transmission because people are lulled into a false sense of security. They get closer to each other and are less careful when washing their hands.

The problem with making one rule for shops is that they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. If you own a very large, well ventilated retail space that rarely has any build up of people, then making face masks compulsory in such a case is unwarranted. However shops that are in enclosed spaces, with little ventilation or are frequently busy, then the case for masks becomes a lot clearer.

In Wales, face masks are not even mandatory on public transport, but merely recommended, with the government saying it would be unrealistic to enforce such a rule. The lack of a uniform approach in just the UK, highlights just how tricky the issue is. However taking all the evidence into consideration, if you own a small, busy shop, it won't be unfair asking people to wear a mask when they step in.

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