Face masks could become the “new normal” and remain compulsory in shops until 2021, government sources have indicated.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed they will be mandatory from July 24 but police have warned imposing the order would be difficult.
Those flouting the law in England face a £100 fine.
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.”
The Government’s policy on face coverings in shops has been plunged into confusion as a Cabinet minister said they should be “mandatory perhaps”.
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said he would wear a face covering into a small shop, though this is not compulsory. He stressed it was a mark of “courtesy” and “altruism” to others.
However, the message was more complex on supermarkets, with shoppers being urged to judge for themselves whether they should wear a face mask to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19.
“Carrying one with me and wearing one into a supermarket is a good idea,” the Cabinet minister told BBC Breakfast.
“And I think frankly the best thing to do is to carry on wearing it.
“If the supermarket is very busy then wearing it is absolutely sensible. People can be trusted to have the good sense to make the judgement call.”
But he suggested a face covering may not be needed if the supermarket is not busy.
He added: “If one has gone into the supermarket very early in the morning and there is nobody around, well that is one thing..but the point is when you come into close contact with people you want to give them the confidence that you are doing everything you can to prevent inadvertent transmission of this disease.”
Public health experts say making face coverings mandatory in shops in Scotland has hugely increased the number of people wearing them in stores.