By David Milliken
LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said tighter rules on wearing face coverings may be needed to stop a resurgence in COVID-19 infections, and that he would like to see them worn more frequently in shops in England.
"I do think we need to be stricter in insisting that people wear face coverings in confined places where they are meeting people that they don't normally meet," Johnson said in a pre-recorded question-and-answer session with the public.
Britain has Europe's highest coronavirus death toll, with almost 45,000 confirmed deaths, and weekly figures on Friday showed a small rise in the COVID-19 reproduction rate, although the number of new infections continues to fall.
People in England are only required to wear face masks on public transport and when visiting hospitals, but on Friday Scotland made it compulsory to wear them in shops as well.
Just over half of British adults who left their homes last week wore a mask, rising to 89% of people on public transport, according to official data published earlier on Friday.
Johnson said he believed the scientific evidence that face coverings were useful was stronger than at the start of the pandemic, and that as lockdown restrictions eased they would be important in stopping a flare-up in cases.
"So that's why it's mandatory already on public transport, and we're looking at ways of making sure that people really do observe when you do have face coverings in shops for instance where ... there is a risk of transmission," he added.
Non-essential shops in England reopened to the public on June 15, and hairdressers, pubs and restaurants resumed business last Saturday.
However the number of customers in shops and cafes is only around half its pre-COVID level, and on Wednesday the government slashed value-added tax and announced other incentives to boost domestic tourism and encourage people to visit restaurants.
(Additional reporting by William Schomberg; editing by Stephen Addison)