Shopworkers union Usdaw has warned the government against easing Covid safety rules in stores.
Ahead of PM Boris Johnson’s announcement today (5 July) of an end to the one-metre rule and face covering requirement from 19 July, Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said shopworkers remained “deeply worried about catching Covid-19”.
“This is not the right time to water down safety in stores and the government should not be removing the requirements of face coverings and distancing in busy public areas like shops,” said Lillis.
“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,” Lillis added.
Johnson said in a press conference that from 19 July, “We will move away from legal restrictions and allow people to make their own informed decisions about how to manage the virus… We will end the one-metre plus rule on social distancing, and the legal obligation to wear a face covering, although guidance will suggest where you might choose to do so, especially when cases are rising, and where you come into contact with people you don’t normally meet in enclosed places, such as obviously crowded public transport.”
He said a final decision on easing the restrictions would be taken on 12 July.
Lillis said relying on the public exercising personal responsibility “ignores the reality that public-facing workers have no option but to interact with large numbers of people as a part of their job”.
“The main purpose of face coverings is to protect others and the government must send out a clear message on this.
“Usdaw is urging the shopping public to continue to wear face coverings, along with necessary hand sanitisation and maintaining social distancing to help make shops safer and limit the spread of Covid-19. We also continue to call on employers to maintain appropriate safety measures and ensure they are being followed consistently, in every store.”
Tom Ironside, BRC director of business and regulation, said: “Retailers await the government’s final decision on July 12 about the easing of restrictions the following week.
“It will take consumers and businesses time to adjust and it is vital that government messaging is clear and consistent so that businesses and consumers easily understand what is expected of them both legally and individually.”
The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health said moving social distancing and the wearing of face coverings from a legal requirement to guidance would make it impossible to enforce the measures in public places.
“With enforcement already difficult whilst social distancing and mask-wearing is a legal requirement, any move to make these things a matter of guidance will make it impossible for our members to enforce them,” said CIEH Northern Ireland director Gary McFarlane.
“If the UK government wants social distancing to continue it will have to legislate for it and make it black and white.”