Exclusive: All supermarkets face inspections in next fortnight to ensure they are Covid compliant

Charles Hymas
·3-min read
Groceries shopping in London, United Kingdom - FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA/Shutterstock 
Groceries shopping in London, United Kingdom - FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA/Shutterstock
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter

All supermarkets face inspections in the next fortnight to ensure they are Covid-secure, as health chiefs warned “one-shopper” rules may be needed to stop family outings to stores.

Ministers have told local councils to check that the 7,000 main supermarkets have effective measures in place to prevent overcrowding, bar those without face coverings and provide necessary sanitation.

Councils have powers under health and safety laws to issue improvement notices where inspectors identify failings with subsequent breaches punishable by up to two years’ in jail and/or unlimited fines.

A spokesperson for Robert Jenrick, the Local Government Secretary and Communities Secretary, said: “Councils have been at the forefront of the response to the pandemic and at this critical point it is vital that everyone plays their part.

“As part of this, the Local Government Secretary is talking to councils about how they can work with retailers to ensure robust measures are in place to help protect the community.”

Watch: Supermarkets clamp down on mask rules

The move comes as ministers consider a one-shopper rule amid fears that people are treating trips to the supermarket as family outings, adding to the risk of overcrowding in stores.

Gary McFarlane, a director of the chartered institute representing environmental health officers, said: “I can see one-adult rules coming.

“There is evidence to suggest that family units are making trips to the supermarket which is not really in the spirit of the regulations. There is nothing to say you can’t do it – but is it wise? The answer is clearly no.”

The crackdown on supermarkets follows meetings last week with ministers who have been concerned they could be vectors for the spread of Covid.

“We are concerned that, for example, in supermarkets we need to make sure people actually wear masks and follow the one-way system, and when they are at capacity to operate safely, people wait outside,” said Nadhim Zahawi, minister for vaccine deployment.

Some chains have reintroduced queues to limit capacity and barred anyone without a mask but a source familiar with the talks said: “Ministers asked all local resilience forum chairs to get local authorities to visit all supermarkets in the next fortnight to inspect and check them.”

The checklist, drawn up by the Local Government Association, includes restricting capacity with staff at entrances to monitor and control numbers, signs and measures to ensure people are wearing masks, one-way systems with markings, hand sanitisers and staff wearing masks.

Morrisons said customers who refuse to wear a mask without a medical exemption will be told to leave its stores, while Sainsbury's said its security staff will “challenge” shoppers who are not wearing masks or who enter stores in groups.

Police called for shops to make wearing a mask a condition of entry, for people who are not exempt from the law, to reduce the number of calls to police.

Officers said they would still respond to incidents in shops where people were being abusive or violent towards staff.

A senior policing source said: “There has been quite a worrying but predictable spike in abuse and assaults on staff who work in supermarkets.”

A Local Government Association spokesman said: “Councils across the country are playing a leading role in helping communities understand and follow the rules by amplifying government communications locally, renewing signage and floor markings, using COVID-19 marshals to help manage high footfall areas and reviewing business risk assessments.

“Supermarkets have been highlighted as areas of concern as one of the few types of business still able to be open. Some supermarkets have started to enforce their rules more effectively through the use of security guidance, and hopefully more will follow suit to help reduce transmission risk in these high footfall areas.

“Councils will continue to work with local partners, including the police, to ensure they keep people safe and take action, if necessary and appropriate, against any breaches to help reduce infection rates.”

Watch: What you can and can't do during England's third national lockdown