Brawls broke out in supermarket aisles across England today as shoppers confronted other customers for not wearing masks, while staff at a McDonald’s kicked out diners for not covering their faces.
Senior police figures urged retailers to enforce the new laws forcing customers to wear face masks in all shops, stations, banks and post offices, but there was confusion across the country with different businesses having different policies on coverings.
Sainsbury’s, Asda, Co-Op and Costa Coffee are among the firms saying they would not police the coronavirus rules, which also require people to cover their faces in all transport hubs, shopping centres and petrol stations.
McDonald’s, on the other hand, are enforcing the rules, with customers in a Chelmsford, Essex branch ordered to leave for not wearing a mask.
The fast food giant said takeaway customers will need to wear the masks but those who eat in the restaurant will not.
Meanwhile, customers reported seeing fights break out in supermarkets, with masked shoppers confronting those not wearing a covering.
Under the rules, even customers entering banks now must don a mask, but young children and people with medical conditions affected by a mask are exempt. Police are now urging shops to refuse entry to people not wearing face coverings.
John Apter, chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: ‘I would urge retail outlets to play their part in making the rules crystal clear – if you are not wearing a face covering then you are not coming in. Officers will be there to help stores if needed – but only as a last resort, as we simply do not have the resources.’
Speaking about those who might have exemptions, Mr Apter added: ‘If you’re out shopping today and you see somebody not wearing a face covering it may be because they have a hidden disability. Don’t jump to conclusions, don’t have a go at them. This is new for us all, it’s about keeping each other safe. Please be nice!’
It comes as:
- The new guidance states face coverings will be required in takeaway sandwich shops like Pret a Manger;
- Care minister Helen Whately defended the short notice regarding the issuing of guidance just yesterday;
- Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the move was essential for preventing a second wave of coronavirus;
- The Government completed a U-turn after initially saying masks were ineffective in stopping it spreading;
- Entertainment venues, pubs, restaurants, hairdressers, gyms, cinemas and museums will all be exempt;
- Union leaders have also voiced fears that the new rules on face coverings could put workers’ safety at risk.
There was confusion within hours of the new rules coming into effect, with shopper Alan Gregg claiming he was at a Tesco store in Balby, South Yorkshire, at 6am for shopping this morning, ‘and the lady at the door said to me face masks are not compulsory in this store’. Tesco has been contacted for comment.
Another Twitter user told Costa Coffee that he was boycotting their stores, saying: ‘Due to your stance on face masks I will no longer be using your outlets despite being a customer for more years than I can remember.’
Failure to comply could result in a £100 spot fine, although police forces have indicated they will only respond as a ‘last resort’. Scotland Yard said it hopes shoppers who refuse to wear masks will be ‘shamed’ into compliance.
A mask can only be removed in a shop for a small number of reasons, such as allowing staff to check someone’s identity or age or to communicate with a deaf lip reader. Shop staff do not have to wear coverings but it is ‘strongly recommended’ that employers ask them to do so unless they have other precautions such as screens.
In Essex, the county council has commissioned a series of badges to help those exempt from wearing masks who are concerned about negative reactions, saying: ‘I have a valid medical reason for not wearing a face mask.’
The new rules are contentious, with some people finding masks uncomfortable and some libertarians complaining they are being ‘muzzled’ by the state.
Among those complaining about the rules was a visitor to dress alterations shop Village Alterations in Melling, Merseyside, which is run by Sarah Knight, 46.
She said: ‘I have five customers so far this morning and fortunately they have all been wearing masks. However one man grumbled: ‘This is ridiculous – they don’t work anyway’. And then he said it was very late in the day that the rule came in.
‘But he was still wearing one. I wouldn’t serve anyone or let anyone come in without wearing one. I would refuse to serve them. I have a mask on when people come into the shop.’
She added: ‘The virus has affected me a lot because i do a lot of wedding dress alterations and a lot of weddings have been cancelled. I just had one bride cancel this morning.’
Today, almost everyone entering cafes and shops lining the busy Kingsway road in Central London wore masks – with staff attending them claiming that the new laws should have been introduced earlier.
Andrzej Kowlski, assistant manager at Greggs, said: ‘All our customers have been very good so far. We are actually not allowed to turn anybody away, but we can advise them that they should wear a mask.
‘This morning my job has been to speak with the customers to remind them about the new law. But we are not prepared to force them to do this and we would not call the police if they protested, unless they became violent.’
Mr Kowlski, who was wearing a visor added: ‘The new law is a very good thing. A lot of shop staff are at risk of catching coronavirus and making face masks compulsory should have happened a few weeks ago when the lockdown started easing.’
Thomas Molley, 64, wore a black mask while he was shopping in Asda in Wythenshawe, Manchester.
The grandfather-of-four said: ‘I don’t want to get a £100 fine so I put one on.
‘Most people seemed to have them on – it seems the right thing to do and we don’t want a second wave.’
Sarah Wright, 33, admitted to not wearing one when she went in Balloons UK shop in Wythenshawe, Manchester.
The mother-of-two said: ‘I hadn’t bought one as I don’t think they do any good.
‘But I’d forgotten you have to wear one from today – I did get a few funny looks, and the staff said I should be wearing one,
‘I suppose I’m going to have to get one.’
One woman, who went into a Subway in Manchester, said: ‘I didn’t think you had to wear one if it was a food place.
‘I’m confused about the rules.’
Steve O’Brien, 28, had a mask on as he went to boots in Aintree, Merseyside.
The car supply worker said: ‘I don;t understand why we have to wear one now.
‘Surely if we needed them, then we should have been wearing on in March.
‘It all seems a bit of a muddle.’
Phil Yates, 44, an archivist who had just purchased a coffee and pasty in Greggs revealed that he had started wearing his face mask as a result of the new law.
He said: ‘I have had a face mask for quite a while but haven’t always been wearing it. But I’m wearing it now as a result of these new regulations. I think it’s a very positive thing, we all need to take more responsibility and do all that we can to help stem the increase in coronavirus. But I don’t understand why it’s taken so long to bring this new law in.’
At Paul café, Sarah Weiss was stood behind a screen wearing a mask as she served customers. She said: ‘About 30 people have come in so far and I would say that more than 90 per cent have had masks on.
‘Of those that haven’t, we just ask them nicely to wear one. We don’t want to get into arguments with our customers, so our approach is to be diplomatic. We feel much safer that people coming into the café now have to wear masks, it’s better for everybody.’
Rani, a shop assistant in the Co-op, said: ‘The new law has just come into force and some people have simply forgotten that they have to wear masks. It’s going to take some time for people to get used to this.
‘It’s going to be difficult to police the new law but I’m hoping that our customers will be co-operative. But to be honest, we wanted this new law a long time ago.’
Jack Smith, a water engineer was not wearing a mask as he emerged from a Pret a Manger with a coffee in his hand. When asked why he was not wearing one, he replied: ‘I just forgot. I’ve actually got one in my pocket.
‘My girlfriend actually reminded me this morning that you can now get fined if you go into a shop or café without a mask. But it’s still very early in the morning and it totally slipped my mind.’
He added: ‘This should have been introduced a long time ago and the Government should have done a better job of communicating to us that the law has changed on masks. There hasn’t been much publicity about this.’
Craig Brown, who was sitting outside a Starbucks drinking coffee said: ‘I’ve started wearing a mask from today, because of the new law. But if you ask me, it should have been introduced sooner.
‘We’ve been going out and about for quite a few weeks now so what’s the point of bringing in this new law now? We don’t know what causes coronavirus, so masks are just another layer of protection.’
Anna, who was wearing a mask and had just bought two coffees said: ‘I’ve not been wearing a mask until now but as it’s now the law, I’ve started to.
‘It is a bit uncomfortable and I can understand why people find them a bit awkward but if it benefits us, then it’s worth it.’