Why people are debating whether supermarkets should enforce face-mask laws

Joanna Taylor
Friday 24 July 2020 11:15
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( Dan Mullan / Getty Images )

Sainsbury's has announced that it won't be "challenging customers without a mask" in stores and people have a lot of thoughts.

In a series of tweets, Sainsbury's explained that there will be "regular reminders" that customers should wear face coverings, but that employees aren't expected to "enforce the new rules".

Tweets signed off by 'Karen' and 'Abbie' clarified Sainsbury's position on customers wearing masks.

Wearing a face mask while shopping is now a legal requirement in England.

The rules are intended to be enforced by police, with a possible fine of up to £100 for failure to comply.

However, John Apter, the national chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said police forces do not have the capacity to ensure every person who enters a store is wearing a face covering.

Meanwhile the government has requested businesses "take reasonable steps to encourage" customers to wear coverings.

Where exactly the responsibility lies is quite unclear.

There are also numeous exceptions to who has to wear a mask, including children under 11 and people with physical or mental disabilities that prevent them from wearing one.

Initially, people seemed angry with Sainsbury's refusal to actively enforce the rules, and the fact that they posted it on social media.

But it's not just Sainsbury's.

While their tweet appears to have gone viral, other supermarkets including Tesco and Asda have also said they will not enforce the new laws.

Lots of people defended Sainsbury's, pointing out that it is not their employees' responsibility to check who is exempted from wearing a mask.

And made the point that supermarket staff shouldn't be forced to put themselves at potential risk.

People who work in supermarkets are considered key workers, and have undeniably been faced with a huge amount of pressure these past few months.

But some people made the point that there are laws which are enforced by supermarkets.

And others were more frustrated with the fact that the lack of enforcement was stated so publicly.

It's worth repeating here that people with physical and mental disabilities that stop them from wearing masks do not have to wear them.

As with so many aspects of the conversation around the government's handling of the pandemic, it seems the debate around masks in shops is still waging on.

We reached out to Sainsbury's with a request for comment, and they responded repeating the statement they made on Twitter.

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