Major high street names have said they will not enforce a new law making the wearing of face masks compulsory in shops in England.
Sainsbury’s, Asda and the Co-op are among the stores saying they do not plan to police the new rule, which carries a £100 fine for non-compliance. However, police leaders are urging shops to refuse entry to people not wearing face coverings after some high street chains said they will not penalise customers who fail to do so.
Jo Whitfield, who runs the Co-op’s 2,600 grocery stores, said its staff – who already received abuse from shoppers on a daily basis – would not challenge people who refused to toe the line.
“We’ll have in-store signage on the new rules around face coverings but we are clear that shop workers should not enforce the new legislation,” Whitfield said.
“On a daily basis they face abuse, threatening behaviour and even physical assault. Our own figures show that during the Covid-19 crisis such instances have risen and enforcing the wearing of face masks could be another flashpoint.”
The rules on English shops come into force on Friday, more than a month after face coverings became a requirement on public transport in England on 15 June. Anyone who disregards the rule can be fined up to £100, reduced to £50 if they pay within 14 days.
John Apter, the national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said forces “do not have the resources” to widely enforce the law.
“It is our members who are expected to police what is a new way of living and I would urge retail outlets to play their part in making the rules crystal clear – if you are not wearing a face covering then you are not coming in,” he said.
“Officers will be there to help stores if needed – but only as a last resort, as we simply do not have the resources.
“The vast majority of the public have complied with the lockdown rules so far and I would hope they will continue to do the right thing and wear face coverings in stores to help protect fellow citizens to minimise the spread of the virus.”
The Association of Convenience Stores, which speaks for 33,500 local shops, has also advised its members not to challenge customers unwilling to wear a face covering.
Sainsbury’s, the UK’s second largest supermarket chain, is also taking the same stance. “We won’t be challenging customers without a mask when they enter or when they are in store since they may have a reason not to wear a mask,” it told customers on social media.
Tom Ironside, the director of business and regulation at the British Retail Consortium, said retailers would communicate and encourage the government’s new policy on face coverings but the “ultimate responsibility remains with customers who must ensure that they wear a face covering when going into stores”. “Our shopping experience is changing, and we ask customers to be respectful and considerate of the new rules,” he added.
Signs in stores and announcements on in-store radio will urge shoppers to wear masks in Asda stores. Like other supermarkets, it will be selling face coverings at the entrance to stores but will not block entry to those who refuse to don a mask.
“Throughout the pandemic our customers have embraced many new rules to help keep everyone safe in our stores, and we are confident they will continue to show care and consideration for each other by wearing a face covering when they visit our stores,” said an Asda spokesman. “While we will do all we can to strongly encourage customers to wear a face covering inside our stores, it is the responsibility of the relevant authorities to police and enforce the new rules.”
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