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Covid: 'Loads of people without masks' in supermarkets

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  • Coronavirus pandemic
media captionCovid lockdown: Are supermarkets following the rules?

Supermarket workers are facing abuse for challenging shoppers not wearing masks during the pandemic, staff say.

One Mold supermarket worker said she was challenging people every day and seeing "loads of people walking around" the store without masks and in groups.

The Welsh Government has hinted rules will be tightened amid concerns Covid-19 rules are not being followed.

"This is not a social event, come in on your own, not as a family of five," the supermarket worker said.

Supermarket workers spoke to BBC Radio Wales as Health Minister Vaughan Gething said the "onus" was on supermarkets to make sure shoppers abided by the rules.

There has been an "escalation of abuse" towards supermarket staff in the last nine months, and the role of policing such rules must not fall on those on the shop floor, Nick Ireland Divisional Officer of the Union of Shop Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw) said.

He said measures in stores had "rolled back", with many no longer enforcing systems, and people walking the wrong way down one-way systems, and "whole families" shopping with just one basket.

Meanwhile Bally Auluk, an area organiser in Cardiff and Barry for Usdaw, said abuse towards shopworkers was happening on "a daily and weekly basis".

He said retailers and the Welsh Government should "start protecting shop workers" after dealing with members himself who were "threatened with physical violence and spat on".

"Customers now are treating it almost like it was last year, that it's not a problem, that is where the big issues arises," he said.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionThe Welsh Government is in discussions about bringing in "more visible" coronavirus regulations.

Morrisons and Sainsbury's had pledged to challenge shoppers not wearing face coverings in store, unless they have a medical exemption.

Under coronavirus rules, people must wear face coverings in order to enter shops across the UK, while supermarkets should have social distancing and strict hygiene measures in place.

The Welsh Government has been in talks with retailers on how to improve safety and return to the strict observance of social distancing from the first lockdown, although no new guidance has been issued.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said he had heard concerns from people "expressing anxiety" about a lack of "visible protections" in supermarkets, such as limited numbers allowed in store, hand sanitiser and security on doors.

The Mold supermarket worker said staff had been told not to challenge people not wearing masks, and had seen people being yelled at.

Jane, who did not give her last name, told BBC Wales customers were offered a mask on the way in, but many did not want them.

"You do see a lot of customers walking around without a mask on," she said.

"Of course there are people with hidden disabilities who can't wear a mask but there can't be that many of them."

'Police or security enforcer'

Jane said enforcement needed to be greater, but it should not be led by the shopfloor staff."We're told not to challenge people as we don't know someone's personal situation and we don't want to face any abuse if they don't want to wear it or don't agree with it," she said.

"At the moment people will ask politely, but I have witnessed quite a few occasions where customers have been verbally abusive to the person greeting them on their way in.

"There needs to be someone enforcing this, it can't be left to retail staff: whether its a police officer or a security guard."

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionSupermarket aisles carrying non-essential items are closed off again, as they were during the firebreak lockdown

One security guard at a supermarket in Aberdare said he had had more "hassle" working in the past 10 months at the store, than from drinkers while working as a nightclub doorman for more than 20 years.

"The attitude towards yourself... they don't appreciate that you're standing there for 12 hours a day, they don't understand how hard it is to try and keep people distancing," he told Dot Davies on BBC Radio Wales.

"When they go inside the shop it all goes out the window... we keep the two metres outside, but we've got people coming outside to tell us we should be in there sorting it out."

One supermarket manager said the lengths people were going to in order to shop together were "ridiculous", with families coming in with a number of trolleys or baskets in order not to be challenged.

"We've seen families turning up to go shopping for a basket shop, it's just not on," said Mr Ireland, who called on supermarket staff to be prioritised for vaccines.

'Staff not wearing masks'

He suggested those who do not observe the rules should be banned and fined.

But one mother said that she had no choice but to shop with her children, and she had been unable to get a click and collect or delivery slot.

"It's easy to get caught up in the fear of it, but some people are at the shops as they have no choice," she said.

Others have spoken of shop staff themselves not wearing masks.

James Lowman, chief executive of the Association of Convenience Stores, said it was "everyone's responsibility" to abide by the rules, rather than for shop workers to enforce.

"Doing that [enforcement of rules] in a small store, where you don't have lots of colleagues around, has been a trigger for more abuse and even violence," he said.

Mr Lowman said making businesses Covid secure was down to the local authority, while individuals' behaviour was a matter for police, but "in practicality" it is everyone's responsibility.

But Mr Gething said the "onus" for getting shoppers to follow Covid-19 rules, such as wearing masks, social-distancing and cordoning off non-essential items, was on the supermarket managers.

"[It needs to be made] clear that you do need to wear a mask unless you can demonstrate that you have a particular exemption," he said.

"I don't think there's any lack of understanding. We've been through this before and I do think a number of supermarkets are going to go and make clear there are a range of items that are off-limits for shoppers coming in.

"Supermarkets understand what they need to do."

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  • Stricter Covid supermarket rules being considered in Wales