Supermarket workers and customers have said they feel “safer” now face masks are compulsory in big retail chains – with one manager saying he would not hesitate to tell a maskless shopper “to leave” his store.
It comes after Morrisons announced on Monday it would now bar customers who refused to wear face coverings from its shops, amid rising coronavirus infections, while Sainsbury’s also said it would challenge those not wearing a mask as well as people shopping in groups.
Speaking to The Independent, a manager at Morrisons in Peckham, southeast London, said there was “no reason” supermarkets should be prevented from “enforcing Covid guidelines” – especially if it helps “stop the spread [of coronavirus]”.
“We have security guards who watch out for anyone not wearing a mask,” he said, “and unless they can prove medical exemption, we will ask them to leave.”
As before, customers at this branch of Morrisons are offered “free face masks” on the door if they forget one, so it really is “only if someone absolutely refuses to comply with the rules, that we would ask them to leave,” he said.
Outside, 20-year-old students Stéphanie and Elisa said it was “too right” that people should be barred from entering stores without the appropriate face covering.
“We’re in such a s**t situation now,” Stéphanie said, “wearing a mask is the least people can do.”
She added it was hard to “understand why anyone would want to enter a shop without a mask anyway” considering the recent surge in cases across Britain.
Elisa agreed: “If you feel you can’t or don’t want to comply then just order online, there are so many other options available.”
Both said it was unfair for supermarkets – and their workers – to “get stick” for having to enforce “clear guidelines” which “the government has failed to do throughout this whole thing [the pandemic]”.
“The UK hasn’t enforced anything in time, so it’s no surprise companies like Morrisons are having to step in and save what they can,” Elisa said, “and they shouldn’t get stick for it.”
Another customer, a 30-year-old mother-of-one who was shopping with her baby, said the move to make masks mandatory made her “feel safer – for myself and my baby”.
“It’s especially good if someone is not sticking to social distancing rules inside,” she said, asking to remain nameless, “because then at least you know the mask will protect you.”
When asked if there had been any trouble since Monday’s announcement, the Morrisons manager said the change in regulations meant “people know now we can ask them to leave – or even stop them from entering – if they don’t have a face mask” which, he said, is “more than before”.
“I think that has helped people to respect the rules a bit more than they did before, when all we could do was ask them to wear a mask without a consequence if they said no,” he said.
The crackdown comes after vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News yesterday the “enforcement of” Covid rules had to be stepped up in supermarkets.
“Ultimately, the most important thing to do now is to make sure that actually enforcement – and of course the compliance with the rules – when people are going into supermarkets are being adhered to,” Mr Zahawi said.
“We need to make sure people actually wear masks and follow the one-way system.”
Since Morrisons and Sainsbury’s introduced the new policy, both Tesco and Asda have followed suit – pledging to ban any maskless shoppers from entering their hundreds of stores across the UK. John Lewis Partnership, which owns Waitrose, also said on Tuesday it would do the same.
A 60-year-old Sainsbury’s customer told The Independent he “absolutely” agreed with the move to make coverings essential in supermarkets – because they make “people my age feel safer in indoor spaces”.
“This virus is transmitted through close contact so more needs to be done to protect against that,” Bhu, who lives in Brockley, south London, said. “And if that means supermarkets being stricter, then so be it.”
Speaking outside the New Cross branch of Sainsbury’s, Bhu – who did not wish to provide his last name – said tighter rules like this were “inevitable” after other countries “with much stricter guidelines – because their governments have been very, very strict” had done the same “months ago”.
Asked about maskless shoppers – and if he would ever take it upon himself to tell someone to put on a covering – Bhu said he’d “like to think he would”. But, he said, it “makes more sense” if supermarket “security guards are given that power” so if a person is medically exempt they can “communicate that and avoid any awkwardness between customers and shop staff”.
“It can only be a good thing that security guards, who are hopefully trained to deal with these people and situations, can now enforce these measures,” he added.
In a statement on Monday, chief executive Simon Roberts said Sainsbury’s had put trained security guards at the front of stores to challenge anyone not wearing a mask. “The vast majority of customers are shopping safely,” he said, “but I have seen some customers trying to shop without a mask and shopping in larger family groups.”
“Everyone’s care and consideration matters now more than ever.”
Another shopper outside the New Cross branch of Sainsbury’s said it was a “positive step” letting supermarkets have this power, “so long as there’s scientific evidence to back it up [the need for masks] – which there seems to be”.
Thomas, a 33-year-old New Cross resident, admitted that he himself had just “last week” gone into a store without a mask – “but only to buy one” to prevent this from happening again. No one stopped him from doing so.
He said the new face mask policy would allow “greater equality” between supermarket shoppers because “everyone is treated in the same way, under the same guidelines”.
“It’s tricky to say whether supermarkets should be allowed to enforce government rules,” Thomas said, “but we’re in a right mess so if that’s what makes people feel safer – and the virus stop spreading – that’s what has to be done.”