Retail

'The masks are everywhere today' – England's shoppers finally cover up


Devizes, Wiltshire

Earlier this week, the sight of a person shopping in a mask in the Wiltshire market town of Devizes was an unusual one.

On Friday, almost everyone was wearing a face covering, not only when they were browsing in stores or grabbing a takeaway but as they mooched around the town’s historic streets and alleyways.

“It’s striking how many people are wearing masks today,” said Joseph Hawkins, a Devizes doctor, who was strolling through the covered market on a day off. “Yesterday just about nobody in the town was wearing masks and now they are everywhere.”

Madeline and Leander Williams in Devizes.



Madeline and Leander Williams, in Devizes. Photograph: Urszula Soltys/The Guardian

Mother and daughter Madeline and Leander Williams, who run a sweet shop and a cafe in the market, were both in masks although shopkeepers are not obliged to wear them.

“I think it’s good if we can set an example,” said Leander. “The majority of people are obeying the rules. Yesterday I reckon one in 10 people wore masks; today it’s at least 60%.”

Most older people wore medical-looking masks. Children opted for more cheerful versions, with dinosaur, tiger and Disney motifs.

A boy dons a mask in Devizes.



A boy dons a mask in Devizes. Photograph: Urszula Soltys/The Guardian

David Field was browsing for a gift at the Gallybagger Leather shop with his twin daughters Izzy and Anna. All three were in masks. “It’s fine,” said Field. “We’ve bought a box of 100 masks so we should always have some handy.”

Mark Routledge, the owner of the leather shop, was sporting a bandana as his face covering. “I think people will do the right thing. If they don’t I’ll politely speak to them. I can be very persuasive.”

Charles Plumb, 89, and Derek Felstead, 82, were waiting in masks outside a bank. “I think everyone should have been wearing these months ago,” said Plumb. “It does make breathing more difficult but it’s the right thing to do.” Felstead added: “If we can do anything to save lives, we should do it. What’s the problem?”

Maria Jackson in Devizes.



Maria Jackson in Devizes. Photograph: Urszula Soltys/The Guardian

Robert Berry, a folk musician, was ordering a takeaway coffee in his mask. He pointed out that it was odd that the staff did not have to wear face coverings. Nor did those sitting down in the coffee shop for their drinks. “There are inconsistencies that I don’t quite get,” he said.

But not everyone was happy.

Maria Jackson, 63, was reluctantly wearing a union jack headscarf as her face mask. “I don’t like it at all. I think it’s silly to do it now. It feels like the horse has already bolted. The only reason I’m wearing it is so I’m not fined.”

Steven Morris

Social distancing signs on the floor in Westfield shopping centre in Stratford, east London



Social distancing signs on the floor in Westfield shopping centre in Stratford, east London. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images

Stratford, east London

On the first morning after face coverings became mandatory in England inside shops, takeaways, banks and other indoor spaces including malls, most visitors to the Westfield Stratford shopping centre in east London on Friday had got the memo.

The vast majority of people walking inside the centre, rifling through the rails in clothes shops, or queuing to buy food and drink, were wearing masks or other face coverings, in a marked change from earlier in the week.

Nermin Halil, 60, had come for a day out shopping with her daughter Afet Barber, 42, and her granddaughter, Yasmin Barber, 22.

Afet and Yasmin had bought disposable masks especially for the shopping trip, while Nermin was wearing a black washable mask, although she said she found it hard to breathe with it on.

All three generations welcomed mask-wearing inside the shopping centre.

“I’ve found it hard in some shops as it’s so hot,” said Afet, adding that the extra discomfort meant the family would curtail their trip.

By lunchtime on Friday, Westfield Stratford was buzzing with families, couples and groups of teens, and not all visitors were following the floor arrows or obeying the one-way system on the walkways.

An advertisement board in Westfield shopping centre in Stratford, east London.



An advertisement board in Westfield shopping centre in Stratford, east London. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images

However, some shoppers had ignored the guidance to keep their mouths and noses covered, and had pushed their masks down below their chin, or wrapped them around their wrists like a bracelet.

Westfield had installed signs at each entrance to the centre, asking visitors to wear a mask, and there were occasional reminders played over loudspeakers. However, there was little sign of any enforcement taking place, either in the centre or inside shops.

Two teenage girls inside the Marks and Spencer store, who did not want to give their names, said they were not wearing masks because they have asthma, and found it difficult to breathe while wearing one, although they had worn face coverings while travelling to the mall on public transport.

Several consumers said shop assistants outside Primark had been asking shoppers queuing to enter the store to put masks on and sanitise their hands before entering.

Tina Clarke, 62, and her mother, Maureen Jayes, 81, had removed their masks while having a hot drink in the centre’s food court.

Their masks were dangling from one ear as they watched other shoppers walking around, some without face coverings.

“There’s no one to enforce it,” said Tina, pointing out a group of shoppers not wearing masks, “and no one is observing the two-metre distancing, either”.

Customers are allowed to remove their face coverings while in a cafe or seating area inside a store, but must put them back on once they leave their seat.

Joanna Partridge



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