Covid: Shops unlikely to enforce mandatory masking wearing

New rules on face coverings have come into force - but will people pay attention? ITV News North of England Reporter Hannah Miller finds out

New rules for staff and customers to wear masks in shops are unlikely be enforced by retail bosses.

It became mandatory to wear a face covering in England on Tuesday over concerns about the Omicron Covid variant.

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

“The first thing to say is that of course we support the reintroduction of compulsory face masks in shops and there is no doubt that the emergence of this Omicron variant is really concerning,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“Safety of staff and customers is of course a priority.

“But the question isn’t whether or not we should mandate face masks, but whether we can mandate them.

“What I won’t be doing is asking my store colleagues to police those who refuse to adhere to the rules.

“They are already working under significant pressure, particularly as we hit the busiest trading month of the year.”

Listen to our coronavirus podcast

Retail bosses have warned they have seen rising violence and abuse against shop workers in recent years, but that this has been further exacerbated by the pandemic and enforcement of Covid regulations in stores.

Those working within the retail industry could be put at extra risk by those not wearing masks within stores but responsibility to enforce the rules should be higher than the shop floor, according to unions.

Paddy Lillis, Usdaw General Secretary, says: “Retail staff working with the public every day are deeply worried about catching Covid-19 and the arrival of the Omicron variant is a further concern.

"Wearing a face covering protects others, it should not be a personal preference, but a personal responsibility. The Government must be clear and consistent on it being mandatory and that shopworkers are not expected to enforce the law on face coverings.

“Usdaw is urging the shopping public to wear face coverings, along with necessary hand sanitisation and maintaining social distancing to help make shops safer and limit the spread of Covid-19. We ask the public to follow the rules and respect shopworkers, abuse is not a part of their job. We continue to call on retail employers to maintain appropriate safety measures, ensuring they are followed consistently in every store."

Tesco will reiterate to customers they are required to wear a face covering, unless exempt, but will not intervene if a person fails to comply.

Sainsbury’s told customers in an email on Tuesday morning that they will need a face covering to enter stores, unless they are exempt.

Aldi UK chief executive Giles Hurley said: “The safety of our colleagues and customers is our number one priority.

“Following the latest Government announcement, wearing a face covering will be mandatory for everyone that shops at Aldi from Tuesday November 30, except for those who have a medical exemption.”

People will also now be required to wear face coverings and masks on public transport.

The Unite trade union has called for face coverings to also become mandatory in pubs, cafes and restaurants after they were not included in the rule change.

General secretary Sharon Graham said: “We must ask why hospitality is the only area in the public arena where face masks are not compulsory.

“Does the Government consider the health and safety of hospitality workers less of a priority than that of workers in other sectors?

“It is outrageous that hospitality workers are being left to police the wearing of face masks due to the lack of proper mandatory rules or effective legislation.”