Big supermarkets won't enforce face mask use 'to halt abuse of staff'

1 December 2021, 14:16

Some supermarkets are not enforcing face mask rules.
Some supermarkets are not enforcing face mask rules. Picture: Getty/Alamy

By Sophie Barnett

Several big supermarket brands have said they will not enforce face mask wearing in their stores despite the government making them mandatory.

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The Co-op, Lidl and Iceland have all confirmed that they will not be asking their staff to enforce the wearing of face coverings, which came into force on Tuesday.

A spokesman for Lidl said enforcing the rule is the "responsibility of the authorities", but asked anyone entering its stores to wear a face covering, unless exempt.

Their stores will have signs in place to remind people to wear face coverings, along with cleaning stations at entrances, hand sanitiser, and protective screens at checkouts.

Meanwhile, the Co-op said they will follow official guidelines, but added "it's not our place to enforce face coverings or to refuse to serve a customer who chooses not to wear one".

Co-op policy director Paul Gerrard said signs would be used but staff would not refuse to serve customers who were not wearing one.

"We have seen throughout the pandemic that the enforcement of social distancing rules has been a flashpoint for enormous levels of violence and abuse against my colleagues, and we will not put our colleagues at risk," he said today.

Richard Walker, managing director of the Iceland grocery chain, said he will not be asking staff to police the mask rules among customers.

Read more: Explained: Face mask rules for each supermarket

He told the Daily Mail: "We fully support the reintroduction of compulsory face masks in shops, however, we won't be asking our store colleagues to police it.

"Our store teams, alongside all retail workers, have shown heroic efforts in terms of ensuring safety for customers and building back consumer confidence and it's crucial that we stay focused on the long-term recovery of the high street.

"We need to continue to encourage people to shop in stores if they feel comfortable, and I'm hopeful that the latest guidelines won't discourage customers from doing so."

Read more: Omicron: PM gives Christmas green light as part of 'balanced and proportionate' approach

Other stores, such as Tesco and Aldi, said it will be mandatory for customers to wear masks in stores, but they didn't clarify whether or not this would be enforced by staff members.

It comes after the Health Secretary Sajid Javid introduced a raft of new measures in the UK to curb the spread of the concerning Omicron coronavirus variant.

These include mandatory face masks in shops and on public transport, unless exempt.

Read more: 'No need to change Christmas plans' despite Omicron fears, says Sajid Javid

In addition to masks, passengers arriving in the UK have been told that from 4am on Tuesday they will have to take a PCR test for Covid, with the expectation they will have to self-isolate until they test negative.

All contacts with a suspected case of Omicron will have to isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status, amid concerns that existing jabs will be less effective against the strain, which is believed to spread rapidly.

The booster vaccine programme is also being ramped up to include all adults, to further protect people from the new variant.