The government needs to clearly communicate the new rules on wearing face masks so retail staff would not risk an increase in abuse and violence, the industry has warned.
All legal restrictions in England, including the requirement to wear face masks, are set to be scrapped on July 19, if the ministers give a final go-ahead on July 12.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that legal requirements on social distancing and mask-wearing will be replaced with guidance that will “suggest where you might choose to do so.”
He, along with his cabinet ministers and medical advisers, has also said he would wear a face covering in crowded places and as a matter of courtesy.
Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC) Helen Dickinson said on Thursday that the Government must provide clear guidance to the sector to avoid confrontations.
“Our primary concern is that government messaging is clear about what is regulation and what is advisory so that people understand what’s expected of them, and that people are tolerant and allow others to make their own personal choices,” Dickinson said.
“There has been a big rise in violence and abuse against retail workers during the pandemic and colleagues cannot be put in the firing line because of this change in policy.”
Dickinson said retailers will have to accommodate all their customers including many “who want to continue wearing masks,” and “many who don’t.”
Her comments come as several retailers weigh up whether to continue asking customers to wear masks in stores beyond July 19.
Sainsbury’s boss Simon Roberts said earlier this week that he would consult with staff but suggested the decision on masks would be one of “personal choice.”
According to the PA news agency, supermarket chains Morrisons and Aldi are understood to be among retailers requesting more detailed guidance soon while Tesco is understood to be currently undertaking an internal review into its mask-wearing policy.
The BRC’s warning comes as retailers and other businesses are concerned that plans to keep self-isolation rules in place until August would also have an impact on workers who would be forced to stay home.
Hospitality chiefs have warned that the delay between restrictions being lifted and the self-isolation rules being eased risks “the summer being cancelled and vast swathes of the population unnecessarily confined to their homes.”
Kate Nicholls, boss of trade body UKHospitality, said: “This is not just a hospitality issue—it is affecting the whole economy and we need an earlier test to release system in place.”
Dickinson also commented on the self-isolation rules, saying the industry is “already seeing a serious impact on retail operations as a result of staff having to self-isolate and this will only get worse right across the economy, as cases are already rising fast and the final restrictions are eased.”
PA contributed to this report.