News | Published July 26 2020

Retailers in refusal to enforce new face covering rules

Sainsburys, Asda, Co-op and Costa Coffee are among major retailers who have said that they will not be responsible for enforcing new rules over wearing face coverings in shops.

Non-compliance is punishable with a £100 fine, and the retailers have insisted that the authorities should assume responsibility for ensuring obedience.

However, the Police Federation of England and Wales has said that it was both “unrealistic and unfair” to expect officers to enter supermarkets and shops and patrol aisles to ensure compliance.

The government’s official guidelines on face coverings was published on Thursday, a mere 12 hours before they came into force on Friday July 24.

The new rules make it mandatory in England to wear face coverings in shops, shopping centres, banks, takeaways, post offices, sandwich shops and supermarkets. A covering must also be worn when purchasing food and drink from a café or shop to take away.

Face coverings will not be required in museums, cinemas, concert halls, theatres, hairdressers, gyms and leisure centres, dentists and opticians.

Exemptions are also made for children under the age of 11 and individuals with certain disabilities or conditions, including respiratory issues, dementia and autism. Public Health England has also issued a warning to parents not to cover the faces of children under three due to risks of choking and suffocation.

Shop and supermarket staff are advised to wear face coverings, but it is not obligatory.

Although the government’s guidelines ultimately say that responsibility for compliance lies “with individuals”, it encourages businesses to “take reasonable steps to encourage customers to follow the law, including through signs and providing other information in store.”

But Sainsburys said that although it would request people do their part by adhering to the rules, it stressed that its staff “will not be responsible for enforcing them” by challenging shoppers who enter their premises without a mask.

Asda said that it will encourage its customers to follow the rules but said that policing and enforcing them was “the responsibility of the relevant authorities”.

Costa Coffee said that it would not “challenge customers who enter our stores without a mask since they may have a legitimate reason as to why they are unable to wear one.”

Meanwhile, Tesco said that it planned to have face coverings on sale at the entrance of stores, while Waitrose plans to post staff members at the doors of their shops to remind customers of the rules.

Greggs and McDonalds have said that they will require customers to wear face coverings when taking away food, while the latter has indicated that anyone staying behind to eat in the restaurant will not need to wear one.

Elsewhere, the Association of Convenience Stores has already said: “We have advised members not to challenge customers unwilling to wear a covering.”

The guidance itself defines the police’s role in enforcing compliance as being to “engage, explain, encourage and finally enforce as a last resort”.

Health secretary Matt Hancock has urged the public to “play the part” by following the new guidelines.

Hancock said: “As we move into the next stage of easing restrictions for the public, it is vital we continue to shop safely so that we can make the most of our fantastic retail industry this summer.

Speaking on Thursday, the prime minister's official spokesman said on Thursday: "With shops, we would expect them to give advice to customers and remind them that they should be wearing a face covering and I'm sure the overwhelming majority of the public will do so."

The most recent figures published by the Office for National Statistics suggest that 71 per cent of adults are now wearing a face covering when venturing out from home, an increase from 61 per cent the previous week.

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Authored by

Alexander Bridge-Wilkinson
Junior Editor
July 26 2020

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