Published: 22:00, 23 July 2020
| Updated: 15:00, 24 July 2020
High street chains like Costa Coffee and Sainsbury’s will not penalise customers who fail to wear face coverings in their stores when new laws come into force.
Despite pleas 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.
Meanwhile, Kent's Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott has pleaded with shoppers not to abuse staff when the new regulations come into force.
From today 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.
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.
But 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.
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.
Kent's Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott urged shoppers to treat staff with respect if they are challenged.
He said: "Shop workers don’t deserve to be abused, assaulted or threatened by any of the minority who might refuse to comply. Please wear one for them."
"Police Officers also don’t deserve to be abused, assaulted or threatened by any of the minority who might refuse to comply."
Mr Scott indicated police officers may be on a hiding to nothing, saying: "They might be unfairly criticised too for giving too many fines and not also enough or turning up to a call about masks or not having the capacity to (do so.)
He added: "Enforcement will be a last resort after education, encouragement and engagement as is already the case. But let’s make this easy.
"Thank you to the police and shop workers in advance for what you will do to help make these new changes work."
More by this authorIan Johns
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