The first vending machines to sell face-masks have emerged on the streets of Britain, the Telegraph can reveal.
Visitors to the Mace Convenience store on Brook Parade in Chigwell, Essex, can now purchase fashion-forward face coverings from a "Vendamask" during their trips out to buy bread and milk.
Adam Freeman, 42, who runs a finance company in nearby Debden, has created maskey.co.uk in lockdown which sells customised designs, and has adapted ordinary vending machines by stripping out their refrigerating units.
Countries such as Singapore and Germany have been selling masks from such machines, but only, it appears, in surgical blue.
Mr Freeman launched his first machine on Sunday, a day before the Government started urging people to wear face coverings in confined spaces.
He said he is consistently selling out the machine’s capacity of 180 masks – and has to be regularly restocked.
Mr Freeman now has 31 orders for further Vendamasks, including one “in a major Regent Street store”, and another outside Loughton’s Central Line underground station.
Mace Convenience store on Brook Parade in Chigwell, Essex, where the masks are now available
Credit: GEOFF PUGH
“I wouldn’t say I was Corona-phobic, but the masks on Amazon took two weeks to come,” Mr Freeman, who was inspired to set up the machines over fears he could contract the disease, said. “Anyway, surgical masks freak me out.”
He teamed up with suit manufacturer and friend Russell Howarth, whose business is closed due to the pandemic, to make the masks. “We were just chatting,” says Freeman, “when out of nowhere, I asked whether he might be able to make fashion masks.” Howarth agreed, and the next day turned up with half a dozen items.
The next task was to modify the vending machine, which Mr Freeman did by removing the refrigeration unit. It has a built-in card reader for contactless payment.
Mr Freeman has said that he 'makes it clear' that the masks are not for medical purposes
Credit: GEOFF PUGH
He pays a cut of his profit to the convenience store. There is a choice of masks costing £5 and £8, depending on the design.
They include leopard-print and white stars on a pink background. “It’s not just a face-mask, it’s a fashion statement,” he said.
Trading Standards told the Telegraph: “There are no laws against selling face masks in vending machines. It would, however, be of concern to Trading Standards if the labelling makes false claims on its ability to protect the wearer, or it is made from hazardous materials.”
Mr Freeman said: “I make it clear that masks are not for medical purposes.” Each box has a set of instructions with this statement in bold red type, plus directions on how to wear the mask safely.
The most recent government directive on wearing face coverings is they should be worn “in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not always possible” – such as on public transport, or “in some shops". The guidance also says homemade cloth face coverings can help reduce the transmission in some circumstances.
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