Retail bosses have warned that they cannot be expected to enforce new rules requiring staff and customers to wear masks in shops.
New face covering rules have come into force in England on Tuesday in response to concerns over the Omicron variant of coronavirus.
Helen Dickinson chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), stressed that it is the role of the authorities to enforce these new regulations, adding that customers also have responsibility to adhere to the rules.
“Retailers will be communicating the new rules on face coverings in England through in-store signage and other channels,” she said.
“However, it is vital that we do not place hardworking retail staff in harm’s way, and enforcement of face coverings must remain the duty of the authorities.
“Furthermore, we all have an individual responsibility to put on a face covering before entering a shop.”
It is the latest challenge for retailers ahead of a key Christmas period. They have already seen pressure from supply chain disruption and labour shortages.
Ms Dickinson added: “While there may be small changes in the way we shop, we ask people to be considerate and we remain confident that everyone can get what they need for a fun and festive Christmas this year.”
Meanwhile, Richard Walker managing director of the Iceland grocery chain, said he will not be asking staff to police the mask rules among customers.
What I won’t be doing is asking my store colleagues to police those who refuse to adhere to the rules
Richard Walker, managing director of Iceland
“The first thing to say is that of course we support the reintroduction of compulsory face masks in shops and there is no doubt that the emergence of this Omicron variant is really concerning,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“Safety of staff and customers is of course a priority.
“But the question isn’t whether or not we should mandate face masks, but whether we can mandate them.
“What I won’t be doing is asking my store colleagues to police those who refuse to adhere to the rules.
“They are already working under significant pressure, particularly as we hit the busiest trading month of the year.”
Retail bosses have warned that they have seen rising violence and abuse against shop workers in recent years, but that this has been further exacerbated by the pandemic and enforcement of Covid regulations in stores.
People will also now be required to wear face coverings and masks on public transport, too.
The Unite trade union has called for face covering to also become mandatory in pubs, cafes and restaurants after they were not included in the rule change.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “We must ask why hospitality is the only area in the public arena where face masks are not compulsory.
“Does the Government consider the health and safety of hospitality workers less of a priority than that of workers in other sectors?
“It is outrageous that hospitality workers are being left to police the wearing of face masks due to the lack of proper mandatory rules or effective legislation.”