Supermarket giant Morrison’s last night vowed to ban shoppers who refused to wear masks – as Boris Johnson ordered customers to follow rules.
The groceries chain – who have at least 494 stores – said they would take the hardline action as coronavirus rampaged through the UK.
It came as one shopworkers’ union said today it had been ‘inundated’ with complaints from its members during the pandemic.
The sudden crackdown was announced after supermarkets, which were initially incredibly strict, started seeing more relaxed behaviour from customers.
Today Boris Johnson even stepped in urged people to take more care and return to the strict conditions of the first lockdown.
Usdaw said supermarkets and food retailers should revert to ‘stringent’ restrictions and said that staff – who are classed as key workers – must be ‘valued, respected and protected’.
Chains such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s said safety remains their ‘highest priority’ and that customers were given regular reminders to follow the rules.
But today shocking examples of the regulations being broken were seemingly evident in the big-brand shops.
People not wearing masks properly, with them nestling under their chins, inside an Asda in South East London England
There were people in Tesco stores who were not wearing masks today, despite rules telling shoppers to unless exempt
It was also difficult for social distancing to be obeyed in some supermarkets due to the number of shoppers inside the stores
Prime minister Boris Johnson said people needed to ‘do the right thing’ by adhering to social distancing when out.
‘We need to enforce the rules in supermarkets. When people are getting takeaway drinks, in cafes, then they need to avoid spreading the disease there, avoid mingling too much,’ he said.
Morrisons’ chief executive, David Potts said: ‘Those who are offered a face covering and decline to wear one won’t be allowed to shop at Morrisons unless they are medically exempt.
‘Our store colleagues are working hard to feed you and your family, please be kind.’
Food shopping is one of the reasons Britons are allowed to leave their homes during the third national lockdown of the crisis
There is a provision in coronavirus rules for people not to wear a mask if they have a medical condition that exempts them
Shop workers remind customers to wear masks in the supermarket although some may be exempt for medical reasons
Face coverings: Who is exempt?
Children under the age of 11 and people who cannot wear a face covering due to a mental or physical illness are exempt from wearing masks.
People who need to speak to or assist someone who is lip reading, or needs clear sound and/or facial expressions to communicate, are also exempt.
Carrying an exemption card or badge is a ‘personal choice’ and ‘not required by law’, according to the government.
It states that if you have an age, health or disability reason for not wearing a mask, then you ‘do not routinely need to show any written evidence of this’ and ‘do not need to show an exemption card’.
The full list of exemptions can be found here.
Earlier vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi voiced his concerns that members of the public were not complying with measures put in place by supermarkets, amid suggestions the restrictions may need to be toughened.
‘I am worried about supermarkets and people actually wearing masks and following the one-way system and making sure when it’s at capacity they wait outside the supermarket,’ he said.
Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: ‘Retail staff are working with the public every day and not only suffer increased abuse, but are deeply worried about catching Covid-19.
‘Where safety measures are agreed, retailers need to make sure that they are being followed consistently, in every store.
‘We are also very concerned by reports that too many customers are not following necessary safety measures like social distancing, wearing a face covering and only shopping for essential items.
‘It is going to take some time to roll out the vaccine and we cannot afford to be complacent in the meantime, particularly with a new strain sweeping the nation.
‘Many retail workers are at a greater risk of catching the virus and bringing it home to their families.
‘Supermarket workers and delivery drivers have worked throughout the pandemic to keep the country supplied with essentials.
‘These key workers must be valued, respected and protected.’
Shoppers in Asda put their masks on after they had gone inside, left, or did not wear one at all in some cases, right
Members of the public bemoaned the mask situation inside supermarkets in a series of posts online on Twitter
Everyone in England is being urged to stay at home and ‘act like you’ve got it’ as part of a major advertising campaign. including posters (pictured) encouraging the public to control the spread of the virus and protect the NHS and save lives
A spokeswoman for Sainsbury’s said: ‘Safety remains our highest priority.
‘We continue to have a range of measures in place to keep customers and colleagues safe in our stores.
‘We have greeters outside our supermarkets and busy convenience stores to limit the number of customers coming into stores and continue to remind customers to wear face coverings and shop alone if they are able to.
‘We also have posters and regular Tannoy announcements.’
Tesco said it was still enforcing social distancing practices in store but was not looking yet at reintroducing measures such as one-way aisles.
‘The safety of our customers and colleagues is our top priority and we already have extensive social distancing measures in our stores to ensure everyone can shop safely with us,’ the store said on Twitter.
‘We are asking all our customers to wear a face covering when visiting our stores and have prominent signs in place to inform customers of the rules.
‘However, there may be some customers who are unable to wear a face covering for medical or safety reasons and we have asked our colleagues to respect that and to not challenge them directly.’
Data from Public Health England last week found 11 outbreaks of the disease had come from food outlets.
But England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said supermarket staff would not be initially prioritised for vaccinations unless they also fell into the highest vulnerability categories.
Responding to a question from a food retail worker from Somerset on BBC Radio 5 Live, he said: ‘All of us in society have relied on the extraordinary work of people who have kept retail for essential goods – food and so on – going, and I think all of us should thank you and your colleagues very much for that.
‘In terms of vaccination prioritisation… the initial wave is all around the people who have the highest risk of dying, it’s a clinical question, largely on age.
‘Obviously if someone falls into that, if they’re an older person working in retail or they have a health condition, they will be included in that.’
Prof Whitty added that as soon as the most vulnerable were vaccinated then ministers would decide who to prioritise next.