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Mask rule change risks rise in abuse towards shop workers, trade body warns

·3-min read

Staff in shops could face an increase in abuse and violence in stores once restrictions are eased, according to the boss of the retail industry’s trade body.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said the Government must provide clear guidance to the sector over plans to end the legal requirement to wear masks in stores to avoid confrontations.

The boss added that retailers are expected to keep hand sanitiser and screens in stores to protect staff.

She said: “Our primary concern is that Government messaging is clear about what is regulation and what is advisory so that people understand what’s expected of them, and that people are tolerant and allow others to make their own personal choices.

Helen Dickinson
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, is calling for greater clarity (Jonathan Brady/PA)

“There has been a big rise in violence and abuse against retail workers during the pandemic and colleagues cannot be put in the firing line because of this change in policy.”

The chief added: “Retailers will have many people in their stores who want to continue wearing masks, and many who don’t, and will have to accommodate everyone.”

Her comments come as several retailers weigh up whether to continue asking customers to wear masks in stores beyond the July 19 date when the Government is expected to relax the vast majority of Covid-19 restrictions.

Sainsbury’s boss Simon Roberts said earlier this week that he would consult with staff but suggested the decision on masks would be one of “personal choice”.

The PA news agency understands that supermarket chains Morrisons and Aldi are among retailers requesting more detailed guidance soon.

Meanwhile, Tesco is understood to be currently undertaking an internal review into its mask-wearing policy following the Government update on Monday evening.

On Monday, Boris Johnson said the Government is planning to halt the legal requirement regarding face coverings.

He did however add that he would wear a face covering in crowded places and as a matter of courtesy.

Coronavirus – Sun Jul 4, 2021
Mask wearing in stores has been in place throughout most of the pandemic (Victoria Jones/PA)

Other ministers have subsequently said they would be “carrying” masks and would wear them in certain circumstances.

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty also said on Monday he would continue wearing a mask “in any situation that was indoors and was crowded, or indoors and in close proximity to other people”.

The BRC’s warning comes as retailers and other businesses are concerned that plans to keep self-isolation rules in place until August would also have an impact on workers who would be forced to stay home.

Hospitality chiefs have warned that the delay between restrictions being lifted and the self-isolation rules being eased risks “the summer being cancelled and vast swathes of the population unnecessarily confined to their homes”.

Kate Nicholls, boss of trade body UKHospitality, said: “This is not just a hospitality issue – it is affecting the whole economy and we need an earlier test to release system in place.”

Ms Dickinson, of the BRC, added: “We are already seeing a serious impact on retail operations as a result of staff having to self-isolate and this will only get worse right across the economy, as cases are already rising fast and the final restrictions are eased.”

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