Face coverings will be compulsory in takeaways, banks and post offices as well as shops, supermarkets, indoor shopping centres and stations in England from Friday, the government has announced.
Face coverings must be worn when buying food and drink to take away, but if sitting down and consuming their purchase in the same premises, a customer can remove their face covering in order to eat and drink there.
While shoppers must wear face coverings, the rules say it will not be compulsory for shop or supermarket staff to wear them. The government only says “we strongly recommend that employers consider their use where appropriate”.
New government guidelines published on Thursday afternoon confirmed that coverings must be worn in shops, banks, building societies and post offices and “travel hubs” such as trains stations and airports.
It will not be compulsory for customers to wear masks or similar coverings in hairdressers, gyms, dine-in restaurants and pubs or cinemas, concert halls or theatres.
Banks and post offices will be able to ask people to remove face coverings for identification purposes.
The health secretary, Matt Hancock, said: “As we move into the next stage of easing restrictions for the public, it is vital we continue to shop safely so that we can make the most of our fantastic retail industry this summer.
“Everyone must play their part in fighting this virus by following this new guidance. I also want to thank the British public for all the sacrifices they are making to help keep this country safe.”
Retailers said they would not ask staff to enforce the wearing of face coverings in shops. From Friday, those who do not do so could face fines of up to £100, in line with the rules for wearing face coverings public transport. Children under 11 and those with certain disabilities will be exempt.
Shops can refuse entry to anyone without an exemption who refuses to wear a face covering and can call the police if people refuse to comply.
But major retailers said they would not ask staff to enforce the rules and some said they would also not require staff wear masks if they were already working behind a perspex screen or similar protective set-up.
Tom Ironside, director of business & regulation at the British Retail Consortium, the trade body which represents most of the high street, said: “Retailers are doing all they can to support necessary safety regulations and will play their role in communicating and encouraging the government’s new policy on face coverings.
“While enforcement of this policy will be handled by the police, the ultimate responsibility remains with customers who must ensure that they wear a face covering when going into stores. Our shopping experience is changing, and we ask customers to be respectful and considerate when the new rules come into force tomorrow.”
Businesses are concerned about potential threats to staff if they try to enforce the rules too strictly. Many retailers have already reported aggressive behaviour from some customers when trying to maintain social distancing measures.
Richard Walker, the boss of the frozen food chain Iceland, tweeted: “If mandatory face masks in shops will make our customers & colleagues safer then they are welcome – but we won’t put our staff at risk by asking them to police this. The UK cannot afford a second wave, so we all need to play our part & show care and consideration for each other.”
The Co-op is introducing body cameras for workers after seeing in-store crime soar by 140% in the past year. It said the numbers of violent incidents hit record levels with 1,350 attacks experienced by workers in its shops in the first six months of 2020.
The company said it had not asked staff to challenge shoppers who were not wearing a mask. “We are aware that there are reasons why some customers are exempt, and it is the responsibility of all non-exempt customers to ensure they are in adherence with the new legal requirements,” The Co-op said in a statement.
Other retailers said they would be increasing use of signage to remind shoppers of the new rules while some, including Sainsbury’s, said they would be making Tannoy announcements about the measures.
Tesco is to offer shoppers arriving without a mask a pack of face coverings at the door.