Shop staff fear rise in abuse when mandatory face masks end on July 19

Shop staff fear a rise in abuse from customers when mandatory face masks end on July 19 – while Aldi and Morrisons are among retailers calling for clarity over new ‘advisory’ rules

  • British Retail Consortium wants clearer guidance from Government on mask use
  • Chief Helen Dickinson warns of divide among masked and unmasked shoppers 
  • Shops need to know what is required by law ‘to avoid in-store confrontations’  

Shop staff fear they could see a spike in abuse and violence from customers once the rule on mandatory face masks is dropped from July 19. 

It comes after Boris Johnson revealed Monday that face coverings would no longer be required by law from so-called ‘Freedom Day’ onwards, before adding that shops and supermarkets would be free to install their own policies. 

Industry bosses fear this could lead to confusion and cause confrontation between customers and staff – especially if those who do not wish to wear masks are asked to do so.   

Retail giants Aldi and Morrisons are reportedly set to demand clearer guidance from the Government over the issue. 

It comes after several attacks against retail staff since the rules on masks and social distancing were introduced in a bid to curb Covid-19 infections last year.

One incident in September saw a maskless thug attack a Co-op worker after she asked him to wear a face-covering, while just last month a woman spat at a Harrods security guard after being ejected for not wearing a face covering. 

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said: ‘Our primary concern is that Government messaging is clear about what is regulation and what is advisory so that people understand what’s expected of them, and that people are tolerant and allow others to make their own personal choices.

A suspect punches a shopkeeper in Gateshead twice in September last year before fleeing on foot. Allegedly the attack was sparked by the shopkeeper asking the man to put on a face mask

A security guard challenges a man for not wearing a mask at Morrisons in Peckham, South East London

‘There has been a big rise in violence and abuse against retail workers during the pandemic and colleagues cannot be put in the firing line because of this change in policy.’     

The chief added: ‘Retailers will have many people in their stores who want to continue wearing masks, and many who don’t, and will have to accommodate everyone.’

Her comments come as several retailers weigh up whether to continue asking customers to wear masks in stores beyond the July 19 date – dubbed ‘Freedom Day’ – when the Government is expected to relax the vast majority of Covid-19 restrictions.

Sainsbury’s boss Simon Roberts said earlier this week that he would consult with staff but suggested the decision on masks would be one of ‘personal choice’. 

Meanwhile, Tesco is understood to be currently undertaking an internal review into its mask-wearing policy following the Government update on Monday evening.

It comes after Boris Johnson said on Monday that the Government is planning to halt the legal requirement regarding face coverings. 

Current mask rules for shops and supermarket 

  • In England you must wear a face covering in shops and supermarkets (places which offer goods or services for retail, sale or hire).
  • You must also where them in shopping centres (including malls and indoor markets).  
  • You are expected to wear a face covering before entering any of these settings and must keep it on until you leave unless there is a reasonable excuse for removing it.
  • You should also wear a face covering in all indoor places where social distancing may be difficult and where you will come into contact with people you do not normally meet. 
  • You must wear a face covering in these circumstances by law, unless you are exempt or have a reasonable excuse. 



Mask rules for shops from July 19 

  • From July 19, face coverings will no longer be mandatory under the law. 
  • However shops and supermarkets will be allowed to decide their own mask policies. 
  • It means some could make it compulsory to wear a mask before entering their premises. 
  • Some retailers, including ASDA and the Westfield shopping centres, said they would let their customers decide whether or not to don the protective face gear. 
  • Tesco is performing an internal review of its current mask guidelines while Morrisons and Aldi are reportedly set to ask for clearer guidance from the Government.
  • Sainsbury’s suggested mask use would be left as a ‘personal choice’ for staff and shoppers.
  • Polls suggest 66% of Brits believe masks should remain mandatory inside shops and supermarkets. 

However he sowed confusion after admitting that people would still be encouraged to wear coverings in ‘enclosed and crowded places’.

He confirmed that he would continue to wear a mask in certain scenarios out of politeness. 

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty echoed the prime minister’s sentiment, saying he would cover his mouth and nose when in crowded spaces, when asked to by a competent authority, or if he felt that not wearing a mask would make another person uncomfortable.

Other ministers have subsequently said they would be ‘carrying’ masks and would wear them in certain circumstances. 

The BRC’s warning comes as retailers and other businesses are concerned that plans to keep self-isolation rules in place until August would also have an impact on workers who would be forced to stay home.

Hospitality chiefs have warned that the delay between restrictions being lifted and the self-isolation rules being eased risks ‘the summer being cancelled and vast swathes of the population unnecessarily confined to their homes’.

Kate Nicholls, boss of trade body UKHospitality, said: ‘This is not just a hospitality issue – it is affecting the whole economy and we need an earlier test to release system in place.’

The thug filmed abusing a staff member at un unknown Co-op on September 24 later pleaded guilty to breaching Covid regulations alongside other offences and received a fine

A fight broke out between a group of women and security guards in front of high-end London department store Harrods last month. Three women were shown in a video of the incident being removed from the store by a group of 12 guards for allegedly not donning face masks

Ms Dickinson, of the BRC, added: ‘We are already seeing a serious impact on retail operations as a result of staff having to self-isolate and this will only get worse right across the economy, as cases are already rising fast and the final restrictions are eased.’  

Mr Johnson’s decision to dump masks came despite SAGE scientists warning ministers they were a ‘baseline measure’ that should be kept ‘to control a resurgence in infections’.

Dominic Harrison, director of public health for Blackburn-with-Darwen in Lancashire, a Delta hotspot, said this week: ‘I generally share the view of some colleagues that it is time for us to open up as much as possible – but the three things we need to make this safer are; to get on with vaccination for those aged 12-plus as soon as possible, increase ventilation measures in schools and other public indoor space and retain mask wearing (as now) in enclosed public space.

‘With these mitigations we should be able to have maximum freedoms and minimal risk – but we need to be really clear – we will still not be completely risk free.’

But sociology professor Robert Dingwall, who sits on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said that the benefits of masks ‘have always been uncertain because the quality of the evidence in both directions is so weak’.

The Nottingham Trent University academic said he would stop wearing a covering from the so-called ‘Freedom Day’ in ‘solidarity’ with various groups including ‘people with communication difficulties, whether auditory and unable to lip-read’ and ‘all the small children whose education has been disrupted by the lack of visual clues, especially in language development’.

Speaking to Sky News, Professor Dingwall said he accepted that others may take a different view but went on: ‘I will not allow them to suggest that I am less moral or caring and I will expect them to respect my choices as I respect theirs.’   

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