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Supermarkets Crack Down on Maskless Shoppers But Police Back Away

Published on: 13 Jan, 2021
Updated on: 14 Jan, 2021

By Martin Giles

All the giant supermarkets in England have banned shoppers without masks and those in groups after they were declared “hotspots” for Covid-19 transmission. Anyone without a face covering must have medical clearance.

Public Health England (PHE) had found its analysis of the test and trace app in November showed supermarkets were the most frequent location for virus transmission.

Simon Roberts, Sainsbury’s CEO, in an email to all registered customers, wrote: “I have spent a lot of time in our stores over the past few days and I need to ask for your help with two key issues to keep you and all my colleagues safe.

People in the town centre Sainsburys store today (January 13) at lunchtime were wearing masks and socially distancing. Photo Hugh Coakley

“When shopping in our stores, you must wear a mask or visor unless you have a medical exemption. And you should also shop on your own. Thank you for your support.

“Security guards will support our colleagues at the front of store and will challenge customers who are not wearing masks or who are shopping in groups. I know you’ll understand and support what we are trying to do.

“We have also significantly reduced the number of customers allowed in our stores at any one time to ensure social distancing is maintained.”

Customers at the Waitrose supermarket in town were wearing masks. Photo Hugh Coakley

Other major supermarkets, including Tesco and Waitrose, are following suit. Tesco says on its website: “When you visit our stores, please follow the legal guidance on wearing a face covering.

“If you forget to bring one, we have packs available to buy at the front of our stores, which you can open immediately and pay for with your shopping later. As a reminder, the police can issue fines for not wearing a face covering, unless you’re exempt.”

But police forces, including Surrey’s, are resisting calls to be more proactive and visible in supermarkets.

A staff member outside Tesco’s supermarket in Ashenden Road was offering a squirt of hand gel to all coming in and reminding people about masks. He said: “A couple of people have been rude but in general, there have been no problems. One man has been banned from the store for repeatedly coming in without a mask. Other than that, we haven’t had to enforce mask-wearing”.

The security guard at Waitrose in the town centre said: “People are wearing masks and keeping their distance.  We are not counting now but we stop people coming in when we judge there are too many inside”.

See also: Dragon Interview: Police Commissioner David Munro and Opinion: This Lethal Virus is No Respecter of Softly, Softly Policing

The Guardian reported that multiple police sources said officers would not get involved in ensuring shoppers are wearing masks.

“We won’t be doing that,” one senior police leader said. “Do people really want the police telling you, ‘That’s not above your nose’?

“There are no extra officers. Everything else [crime] is still happening. Where is the greater risk? Do you put two people in a supermarket not wearing masks before a woman suffering domestic violence.

“You need clearer, consistent messaging, not new rules and more enforcement.”

Only police can issue fixed penalty notices to those breaking pandemic restrictions.

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