NICOLA Sturgeon said she is hopeful people will comply with new rules making face coverings compulsory in shops.

The mandatory wearing of masks or other coverings in all retail stores adds a “layer of protection”, she said, and they should be regarded as being as necessary as seatbelts in cars.

The First Minister also said the move to phase three of easing lockdown from Friday gives people many more freedoms - so it is therefore “a moment of maximum danger”.

The two-metre physical distancing rule can now be relaxed in shops and on public transport, if further mitigation measures are in place, while groups of up to 15 people from a maximum of five households are allowed to meet up outside and up to eight people from three different households can gather together indoors.

Face coverings are mandatory on public transport and in shops, with exemptions for children under five and people with certain medical conditions.

In an interview on BBC Breakfast, Ms Sturgeon said it is down to the police to enforce the wearing of face coverings - although her deputy John Swinney suggested officers should not be patrolling the aisles of shops to catch people breaking the rules.

Asked why face coverings have become mandatory in shops more than four months after the start of the coronavirus outbreak in Scotland, Ms Sturgeon said: “It’s an enclosed space, it can be somewhere that it is difficult to keep a safe physical distance, and so - similar to public transport, which has been mandatory now for some time - our judgment is that it should be the law that people wear face coverings.

“We know that there is increasing evidence that wearing a face covering can play a part in stopping the transmission of the virus.

“I think it’s important to say it’s not something that gives you your immunity from the virus. It’s not a substitute for all the other measures like washing your hands properly and safe physical distancing, but it can add a layer of protection.

“As we start interacting with each other much more now, it’s important that we do all of the things that just reduce the ability of this highly infectious virus to spread.

“So I hope everybody across Scotland today complies with the law. On public transport, trains, buses, ferries and now in shops, it is compulsory to wear a face covering.”

Mr Swinney said he believes Scots’ compliance with wearing face coverings is “gradually” improving.

He told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “As they embark on coming out into more active participation in society again, I think people understand the importance of taking these preventative measures that will protect themselves and protect other members of society.”

On the issue of enforcement, Ms Swinney stressed that while police have responsibility for that, he does not believe officers in shops would be a “productive and sensible use of police time”.

He added: “We want to make sure that we encourage a culture of personal responsibility.

“We’ve had, throughout coronavirus, an astonishing level of compliance from members of the public, voluntary compliance to support our efforts, and as a consequence we’ve made more rapid progress in tackling coronavirus than any of us envisaged was possible.”