Big Supermarkets Refuse to Enforce New Mask Rules
Shoppers caught at stores without a face covering now face a £100 fine in England and can be removed “with force” if they refuse, but major chains are refusing to enforce the rule to avoid confrontation, and major police federations have called the idea of officers forcing masks on people “absurd” and “unrealistic”.
Compulsory mask-wearing in many indoor public spaces took effect on Friday, weeks after the change was announced by the government and despite claims by senior government figures earlier on in the pandemic that mask-wearing was not effective and pointless for the general public.
Yet how this rule will be enforced is unclear, given several UK chains have said they will not be forcing mask-wearing on their premises, and senior police officers have expressed dismay at the expectation that forces would be expected to do it.
Indeed, most of Britain’s largest supermarkets — Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrisons, Co-op, and Lidl — have all said they will not be enforcing mask-wearing, although all will encourage it passively through signage and in-store announcements. The only supermarkets in the top eight by UK market share to deviate from this position is German chain Aldi, which has said it will, in fact, ask customers to wear masks, and premium chain Waitrose which will have staff on the doors.
A spokesman for Lidl explained why it was not their responsibility to enforce the new rule, remarking: “Wearing a face covering is the responsibility of the individual and should only be enforced by Police and council enforcement officers.”
Yet despite that insistence, senior police officers — already stung by a raft of bad publicity and falling public sympathy following the at-times heavy-handed enforcement of early lockdown by some forces — appear reluctant to become the mask-police.
John Apter, the chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales whose forces cover the whole geographical area impacted by the new government rule, was also very critical of the expectation that officers would be expected to confront the public over mask-wearing. He said: “To expect my colleagues to be policing the supermarket aisles, looking for those shoppers not wearing a face covering, is unrealistic and unfair.”
Apter made fresh comments this week as the ban came into force, stating the police simply did not have the resources to station officers at every supermarket and said they would only get involved “as a last resort”.
In Scotland, a historic nation part of the United Kingdom in north Britain, local powers devolved to the Edinburgh regional government means the masks in shops rule has already been in place, offering an insight into how enforcement may go. In two weeks of the rule, only one £100 fine has been issued.