By Owen Sheppard, Local Democracy Reporter
Supermarkets have been urged to enforce the wearing of face masks inside their shops after criticism from the public.
Infection rates are continuing to rise in London – the worst affected area of the UK – due to the new coronavirus strain that is up to 0.7 per cent more virulent.
But the likes of Tesco and Sainsbury’s insist that the police should enforce the wearing of masks, and that their staff could be at risk of “verbal and physical abuse”.
The call was made by Hammersmith and Fulham council leader Stephen Cowan, who also said he believed that councils should be given greater enforcement powers.
His comments came during a council cabinet meeting on Monday shortly before the Prime Minister announced the national lockdown which will last until at least February 22.
Mr Cowan said: “We would urge people to stop mixing with people outside of their bubble. And if you are outside, always wear a mask and carry hand sanitiser.
“We would urge the Government to have stronger mandates on mask wearing.
“Many supermarkets have told their staff not to police people for not wearing masks. You do get examples of people refusing to wear a mask.
“I believe people shouldn’t be served, and indeed the supermarkets and law enforcement agencies need to take robust action to make sure that people do wear masks in those scenarios.”
In September, the council’s cabinet member for health, Ben Coleman, said members of the public had been particularly critical of Sainsbury’s over a lack of mask wearing in their shops.
Mr Cowan added: “We think local government should be given greater powers to enforce some of those compliance and enforcement measures – something that has not happened as yet.“
Mr Cowan suggested a ban on pubs selling takeaway drinks, a measure which also came into force yesterday as part of the lockdown.
In response, a spokeswoman for Tesco said: “The Government has set out reasons why customers may be exempt from wearing face coverings and has made clear that it is for the police, rather than individual retailers, to enforce this or determine if an exemption applies.
“Our colleagues do not have enforcement powers, and asking them to do this would put them at increased risk of verbal and physical abuse.”
A Sainsbury’s spokesman said: “We are asking everyone to continue playing their part in helping us to keep everyone safe in our stores and to wear face coverings, in line with the government guidance.
“Posters are displayed inside and outside our stores and there are regular announcements asking customers to follow the new rules.”
Please support your local paper by making a donation
Please make cheques payable to “MSI Media Limited” and send by post to South London Press, Unit 112, 160 Bromley Road, Catford, London SE6 2NZ
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has encouraged everyone in the country who can afford to do so to buy a newspaper, and told the Downing Street press briefing recently: “A free country needs a free press, and the newspapers of our country are under significant financial pressure”.
So if you have enjoyed reading this story, and if you can afford to do so, we would be so grateful if you can buy our newspaper or make a donation, which will allow us to continue to bring stories like this one to you both in print and online.