OPINION: Why face masks should still be mandatory in all shops

We should still be wearing masks in shops from July 19, says Nick Richards, especially if it means staff don't have to

We should still be wearing masks in shops from July 19, says Nick Richards, especially if it means staff don't have to - Credit: Archant

It's a year to the day this coming weekend that we were first required to wear face masks in shops.

I remember how strange it felt to walk in to my local Co-Op early on Saturday, July 25 last year with a disposable mask on, muffling a hello to the woman on the checkout and feeling like a bandit from a Western about to rob the place.

It was the first time I'd worn a face mask and I felt awkward and strange until somebody else came in to the shop looking exactly the same and mumbling a hello.

It's incredible to think that we bumbled about for four months last year in lockdown without wearing masks in public.

Those first four months were all about non-essential journeys being stopped and only going out for exercise as infection rates spiralled and a vaccination was just a hope on the horizon.

We used home deliveries more and more, kept the kids off school and it now seems bizarre that it wasn't even mandatory to pop a face covering on when you went to the confined space of your local shop.

As many restrictions come to an end today there's a temptation to ditch those masks, which have become the symbol of this pandemic.

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I've noticed walking my children to school a big drop in the number of parents wearing them inside the school gates despite them being mandatory.

It's noticeable, too, that those that do wear them can't wait to uncover themselves and gather for a communal morning fag together, standing in close proximity and breathing tobacco-filled air at each other.

That's their choice, but I believe its not our choice to have to decide whether or not we wear face masks in shops from today.

Late last week some of the biggest supermarkets, Tesco, Sainsbury's, Morrisons, Asda and Aldi all said they would encourage shoppers to still wear masks.

They shouldn't have to - they should still be compulsory, especially as infection rates are on the rise again.

Shop staff, whether it's those in supermarkets, post offices, petrol stations, banks, corner shops, whatever have kept the nation going over the past 18 months.

They've not had the option of being furloughed or working from home. They've met this pandemic head on, often with just a flimsy plastic screen between themselves and potential infection.

If you're looking forward to not wearing a mask anymore think about how gruelling it is for a shop worker to wear one for the whole day.

We should factor this in when we simply slip one on for half an hour to get our groceries.

Some supermarkets, such as Aldi, which probably has the most confined space around its till area, has erected clear plastic screens between aisles and clear protective plastic barriers around the tills. 

I'm sure staff are more than delighted to be able to have some kind of psychological barrier between themselves and customers.

Shopping, especially in supermarkets, and especially at a checkout, is the one place we probably interact at closest quarters with other people so why would you not want to wear a mask when you're there, regardless of whether you've been double vaccinated and are feeling super healthy?

Manning the self-service checkouts must be even harder for supermarket staff, especially when they verify your age and have to come right up to the screen and are just inches away from you. 

The issue is even harder for smaller independent shops who from today can't limit shop numbers or force people to wear masks. I don't see why they should have to don a face mask while their customers can breeze in and out, touch their products and not have to cover their faces.

As I write this my local record shop has just posted online that from today they hope customers will still wear masks, although that won't be enforced. They stressed the urge for common sense, which seems to be the perfect message to send out and one I endorse.

We've clapped for our carers and heaped praise on the NHS, we've fussed over our teachers with lavish end of term gifts but what have we done for our shop workers? Not much.

From today the government has washed its hands of the responsibility of enforcing mask wearing, putting more stress on shops to police the safety of their staff, which I am sure is more hassle they don't need right now.

Moaning about having to wear a mask for a few minutes in their company, in their place of work seems totally wrong when we can mask up, protect them, protect us and at least allow them to work in more comfortable conditions, especially if this summer is anywhere near as warm and stuffy as last year.

It's a gift from us to them and more importantly, a mark of respect.