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High street chains differ over face covering rules

Several large retailers have issued different messages to customers ahead of laws being brought into force in England.

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Shoppers wearing face masks (Liam McBurney/PA)

Shoppers wearing face masks (Liam McBurney/PA)

Shoppers wearing face masks (Liam McBurney/PA)

High street chains like Costa Coffee and Sainsbury’s will not penalise customers who do not wear face coverings in their stores when laws come into force.

Despite pleas early on from the Government for retailers to enforce the regulations with the help of police, some have said they will not challenge customers who enter their stores unmasked.

From Friday in England, customers will be breaking coronavirus laws if they do not wear a face covering in shops, shopping centres, banks, takeaway outlets, post offices, sandwich shops and supermarkets.

This includes when buying food and drink to take away from cafes and shops, like Pret A Manger.

Those who ignore the rules risk being forcibly removed from premises by police, slapped with a £100 fine or even prosecuted.

But some police chiefs warned there are not the resources to patrol the aisles.

The laws could be in place until at least January, and could even last a year, unless the Government decides to scrap them in the meantime.

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Face coverings are already mandatory in shops in Scotland (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Face coverings are already mandatory in shops in Scotland (Andrew Milligan/PA)

PA

Face coverings are already mandatory in shops in Scotland (Andrew Milligan/PA)

On Thursday Costa Coffee said it would “not be challenging customers who enter our stores without a mask since they may have a legitimate reason as to why they are unable to wear one.”

Sainsbury’s said while it is asking everyone to continue “playing their part” in helping to keep everyone safe in store by following the rules, “our colleagues will not be responsible for enforcing them”.

Asda said it will “strongly encourage customers to wear a face covering”, but added: “It is the responsibility of the relevant authorities to police and enforce the new rules.”

Tesco will be selling face coverings at the entrance and Waitrose said staff would be at the entrance to stores reminding customers of the requirement.

But customers will be “required” to wear a face covering in Greggs.

McDonald’s said takeaway customers will need to wear face coverings but those who eat in the restaurant will not unless they are moving around the premises, for example to use toilets or when at self-order screens.

The British Retail Consortium called on customers to be “respectful” of the new rules and criticised the Government for taking so long to publish the new laws and guidance.

Union leaders have voiced fears the rules could put workers’ safety at risk if there are abusive customers or those who refuse to wear a mask and officials accused the Government’s advice of being confusing.

Last week police chiefs were blindsided by the Government’s announcement after they were not told in advance of the plans.

Although ministers initially urged retailers and officers to enforce the rules, National Police Chiefs’ Council chairman Martin Hewitt said police action should be a last resort.

The Police Federation of England and Wales, which represents rank-and-file officers, said it was “unrealistic and unfair” to expect them to patrol the aisles looking for people breaking the coronavirus regulations.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick said she hoped shoppers who refuse to wear masks would be “shamed” into compliance.

Police and crime commissioners for Devon and Cornwall and Thames Valley said officers will not attend incidents where shoppers refuse to wear masks, unless they turn violent.

Andy Marsh, chief constable of Avon and Somerset Police, said the force had “very limited capacity” to enforce the rules, and would only have a role in “a tiny minority” of cases.

Venues like restaurants, pubs, gyms, hairdressers, beauty salons, leisure centres, cinemas, concert halls and theatres are exempt.

As are children under 11, people with breathing problems and anyone who cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment or disability.

The Government said the responsibility for wearing a face covering “sits with individuals”, adding: “Businesses are encouraged to take reasonable steps to encourage customers to follow the law, including through signs and providing other information in store.”

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told reporters on Thursday: “With shops, we would expect them to give advice to customers and remind them that they should be wearing a face covering and I’m sure the overwhelming majority of the public will do so.”

PA