SHOP owners around Swindon welcomed the government making masks a must-wear for customers in England - but suggested it should have been done sooner.

Shoppers will have to don face coverings when they visit any retailer from Friday July 24 - and could face a fine of up to £100 if they ignore this new rule.

Traders praised the extra step to stop the spread of the deadly virus and 66 per cent of 830 Adver readers surveyed in our online poll agreed that it was a good idea.

It comes as the UK’s coronavirus death toll nears 45,000 and shortly after non-essential shops marked their first month since reopening.

Alexandra Park Convenience Store manager Sunny Patel said: “It is a really great idea. The economy has suffered and we do not need a second wave.

“We must act very seriously to control the second wave. People are not getting used to this situation, so sometimes they forget the virus is still around.

“The government should have done it a long time ago but they’ve now realised the importance of wearing a mask, and that’s great.”

Ross and Lee Mulholland own the Something Different gift shop in the Brunel Shopping Centre.

Ross said: “Part of me does think it should have happened earlier and that this is like damage control. The wheels need to keep turning so the economy does not collapse.

“It will be interesting to see how this rule is enforced. People are adults so it’s not my place to enforce it - and after three months of being closed, we are in no position to turn away customers.

“I worry whether it will discourage people from coming into town because they feel it’s a hassle or that it being necessary now means the situation is worse than they thought.

“Or it might encourage people who are currently unnerved about going out in public to do so. People wearing masks are in the minority at the moment.”

Old Town Premier Store owner Gagan Singh said: “I think it’s a good idea, if it’s going to help reduce the risk of infection, but now it is just about how we are going to police it in our store.

“We have a young generation coming to our store. If they don’t wear the mask, are we going to refuse entry?

“ Because if we sell masks and tell them to buy a mask, they’ll think we’re trying to make money from the whole situation.

“The government knows best if the infections are rising, so they’re doing it for a reason. It’s a bit too late but they haven’t come out with a lot of information, so we’re waiting.”

Though retailers have welcomed the new rule, it remains to be seen if people will actually follow it. Wearing a mask is already compulsory on public transport yet some concerned passengers have seen several people getting onto buses and trains without one.

Suzanne Hamrouni, 61, told the Adver of a worrying bus journey she made on the day the mandatory mask-wearing came into effect: “I feel let down. I know how important the buses are to us.

“They [Swindon’s Bus Company] have made every effort, I can’t fault the inside of the buses. But the fact is, they’ve not carried out what they’ve said to do.”

The bus company’s managing director Andrew Wickham then said the firm expected all passengers to wear a face covering “if they can”.

He added: “Some of our passengers may have a health condition which exempts them from wearing a face covering - and not all of these conditions are visible to others. If you need to travel without a face covering, we recommend you carry a Helping Hand journey assistance card.”

Stagecoach faced similar fears about passengers flouting government guidelines . A Stagecoach spokeswoman told the Adver: “Most passengers are looking to do the right thing and are very supportive of the changes.

“However, we know that it will take some time for passengers to adapt to this new requirement.

“As with any change in any part of life there may be instances where people forget or aren’t aware and we are helping our passengers to understand the new guidance.

“As with many other changes made as a result of the pandemic, responsibility for complying regulations lies with individuals themselves. We will appeal to customers to act responsibly.”

Throughout the pandemic, wearing a mask in shops and other buildings has only been advisory - and the Adver has seen plenty of people choosing not to cover their faces while in the town centre.

Less than a fifth of 544 shoppers wore a mask when one of our reporters spent half-a-hour on the busy stretch opposite HMV on Fleet Street on a Sunday in June.

Swindon Borough Council stressed the importance of abiding by the new rule once it comes into force to protect others and help continue the town’s economic recovery.

Cabinet member for the town centre Coun Dale Heenan said: “The latest Centre for Cities data shows Swindon is recovering more quickly from Covid-19 lockdown than the majority of major towns.

“We need to keep up this momentum, and wearing a mask should give everyone more confidence to go shopping. It is incredibly important people in Swindon continue to support their local high street and shops.

“If online shopping remains at 60- to 70 per cent of sales then more shops will close. We need to use them or lose them.”