UK retailers start to call on police to help enforce COVID-19 mask rules

Lucy Harley-McKeown
·3-min read
A member of staff wearing a face mask works at a Sainsbury's supermarket, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in London, Britain January 11, 2021. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
Retailers have spent time and money to ensure a safe shopping environment during the pandemic, rolling out hand sanitisers, perspex shields and new queueing systems. Photo: REUTERS/Hannah McKay

UK retailers have begun to call on the police to help them enforce coronavirus mask wearing rules, as case loads reach critical levels across the UK.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC), a body representing more than 170 retailers, asked authorities to do more for supermarkets. It said that interventions by staff have led to a rise in incidents of abuse.

Andrew Opie, the BRC’s director of food & sustainability, said: “While enforcement of face coverings is the responsibility of the police, retailers continue to do what they can to encourage their use throughout stores.”

READ MORE: 2020 UK retail sales worst on record

He also noted that firms had spent hundreds of millions of pounds on safety measures including perspex screens, additional cleaning and social distancing.

Prime minister Boris Johnson told reporters: “People have got to follow the guidance in supermarkets, people need to be keeping their distance, making sure that they’re wearing masks, doing the right thing.”

Yesterday, the UK recorded another 46,169 coronavirus cases and 529 deaths. The latest data takes the total number of fatalities within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test to 81,960.

Meanwhile, total retail sales in 2020 declined 0.3% compared with 2019, reaching the lowest level since records began in 1995, according to December’s British Retail Consortium (BRC)-KPMG retail sales monitor.

WATCH: Coronavirus in numbers: UK death toll at 81,960

Supermarkets under the spotlight

This is an escalation of moves made by supermarkets on Monday. Morrisons’ (MRW.L) CEO David Potts said yesterday that those who fail to wear a face covering, and are not medically exempt, wont be allowed in the shop.

“Our store colleagues are working hard to feed you and your family, please be kind,” he said.

Health secretary Matt Hancock applauded the move, saying: “That’s the right approach and I want to see all parts of society playing their part in this.”

Following this, Sainsbury’s (SBRY.L) also said it would challenge non-mask wearers or those shopping in groups. It said it would put trained security guards at the front of the shop to challenge non-compliance.

On Monday, the UK government also expressed concern about this phenomena. The minister for vaccine deployment Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News: “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.”

He urged people to comply with the rules when grocery shopping, saying “the lockdown is actually pretty severe, we're asking people to stay at home, don't go out, if you have to go out it's only for exercise.”

Retailers have spent time and money to ensure a safe shopping environment during the pandemic, rolling out hand sanitisers, perspex shields and new queueing systems.

READ MORE: COVID-19 vaccine minister voices concern on spread of virus in supermarkets

Before Christmas, more than 300 Tesco (TSCO) stores across the country said they would trade for 24-hours from 14 December to Christmas eve to spread out shoppers. While many other stores are expected to extend their hours by opening from 5am.

Tesco — Britain’s biggest supermarket chain — has also installed a traffic light system in majority of its stores to help regulate the number of shoppers.

Meanwhile, several other stores, Waitrose included, said they would launch queueing apps.

Asda has been trialling queueing app Qudini since the spring, while, Sainsbury’s has enabled virtual queues via a different app in some shops.

Watch: PM warns public against ‘false complacency’ over COVID