Up to nine in 10 people are wearing face coverings in shops, Retail NI said. Some customers are not being as strict on social distancing and hand sanitising because they have donned masks, chief executive Glyn Roberts added. Small firms like convenience stores are braced for a deterioration in trade before conditions improve while Stormont's Executive moves to contain a new upsurge in coronavirus infection. He declared: "There is a determination to continue this but it is an ongoing challenge. "There is a determination to knuckle down and get through this.
There is a perception that things will get worse before they get better - but they will get better as we all work together on this.
Retail NI represents 1,300 members including independent businesses of all kinds. Mr Roberts said his members had seen 80-90% compliance with wearing of face coverings. "We are in a much more serious situation now with the restrictions. "We have picked up some concerns from members that people, because they are wearing a face covering, think that they do not have to sanitise their hands and be so strict with social distancing."
Many of his members were open throughout the pandemic as essential services providing food and other goods. "Our top priority was to ensure the safety of shoppers and shop staff." He added: "They have been there making sure people get the food and vital products they need. "A lot of members have stepped up deliveries to the vulnerable. "There is a determination to continue this but it is an ongoing challenge." Retail NI has called for a zero-tolerance approach to verbal and physical abuse of shop workers and for stiffer penalties for those who assault retail staff. Shop workers' trade union Usdaw revealed that abuse of staff has doubled during the pandemic. Meanwhile, footfall in some areas remains subdued. A recent Belfast Chamber survey which shows only 5% of office staff have returned to their workplaces. Retail NI has said their return is vital to the viability of many businesses. Office workers provide a large amount of footfall and trade for the retail and hospitality sectors in many high streets.