disposable face mask

Appeals for customers to show respect to retail staff have been made as guidelines on wearing face coverings in stores in England are relaxed.

From Thursday 27 January, face coverings are no longer required by customers in stores in England as part of the government’s move away from Plan B. Some major multiple retailers including Sainsbury’s and Waitrose will still request customers to wear them. Face coverings are still compulsory for customers in stores in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales unless the individual is exempt.

Chief executive of the Association of Convenience Stores James Lowman called for respect for staff.

“While no longer a legal requirement, many stores still have a policy of asking customers to wear face coverings whilst shopping, and that should be respected.

“Covid-related abuse, especially around the wearing of face coverings has been a significant problem for retailers and colleagues throughout the pandemic, so we ask all customers to be respectful of the policies in place in their local shops.”

Shop worker union USDAW also urged respect for retail staff. General Secretary Paddy Lillis said it was “deeply disappointing that the Government has ploughed on with ending mandatory face coverings in shops”.

“We continue to ask employers to think about their duty of care to staff and promote existing safety measures to the shopping public. We also ask customers to show their support and respect for shopworkers by continuing to wear face coverings, observe hand hygiene and maintain social distancing.

“Retail staff already face unacceptable levels of abuse and making Covid safety measures guidance only, instead of having the force of law behind them, could put more shopworkers at risk. We need more retailers to keep their Covid safety measures in place to avoid confusion and send a clear message to shoppers.

“Wearing a face covering is an important measure to help protect workers who have no option but to interact with the public. Many retail workers are at a greater risk of catching the virus and bringing it home to their families. They have worked throughout the pandemic to keep the country fed and deserve to be valued, respected and protected.”

Lillis criticised the government for the lifting of restrictions. “It beggars belief that the government chose to dismiss the concerns of our members and many workers who are desperately worried about restrictions being lifted while case numbers remain high,” he said. “We understand that the government has to scale back ‘Plan B’, but surely this should be done in a more measured and gradual manner.

“The government could have eased existing restrictions while maintaining safety measures in businesses that have been open throughout the pandemic, like supermarkets. Face coverings, hand hygiene and social distancing had pretty much become the norm in retail, but constantly changing the rules is unhelpful.”