Plan B ends today – but will face masks really be a thing of the past?

Last week’s news that face masks would no longer be mandatory in shops from today (Thursday 27 January) as Covid measures are dropped came as something of a surprise to grocery and retail businesses across the UK.

With ongoing concerns about staffing levels as well as customer safety, will grocers follow government guidance?

The announcement was made by prime minister Boris Johnson in the House of Commons, when he confirmed that mandatory face masks will no longer be required in retail settings, although people are advised to continue wearing them in ‘enclosed or crowded spaces’.

This has, perhaps understandably, led to some confusion as supermarkets are typically enclosed and often crowded. As a result, some grocers are continuing to ask customers to wear face masks when they enter the store, although this can no longer be legally enforced.

“It is a positive sign to see the Omicron wave abating, but we hope that the decision to remove some of the regulations is based on science rather that political reasoning,” stated Bira‘s CEO Andrew Goodacre.

“Retail businesses need certainty and we want to be sure that retailers do not need to re-introduce these measures in the near future because the government has acted in haste. We now hope that the government can focus on business support as we look to recover.”

Read more: “Flip-flopping” Covid-19 restrictions creates confusion

On the changing government guidance, Sainsbury’s said: “Safety remains our highest priority. From Thursday, we’re asking our customers and colleagues in England to continue to wear a face covering in our stores if they are able to.

“In Scotland and Wales face coverings remain mandatory for those who can wear them in our stores, in line with the latest government restrictions.

“We continue to have a range of safety measures in all of our stores, including screens and sanitising stations.”

Waitrose states that it values the “safety of [its] customers and partners” and will continue to follow the latest Government guidelines. However, from next Thursday, it has said will “be encouraging people to wear masks in our stores, although it will be down to individuals to make a personal choice”.

Asda has followed the government guidance on mask-wearing throughout the pandemic and expects to carry on doing so, although nothing official has yet been announced.

Similarly, the Co-op expects to continue following the official guidance but will be encouraging customers to wear masks if they are able and feel comfortable to do so.

Effectively set up as independent stores, Nisa retailers run their businesses individually. As such; “whether they ask shoppers to wear masks or not will be entirely up to them,” a statement from the group read.

“Our support involves providing retailers with the latest guidance and ensuring that we have assets available to support them in store – such as posters for them to display advising of the current legislation.”

Lidl has stated that it will be following the guidance of the British Retail Consortium (BRC) as the issue relates to the wider retail industry.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC said: “The Government’s decision to remove Plan B restrictions, including wearing face coverings in a retail setting will enable shopping to return to more normal experience for customers, employees and businesses.

“Retailers ask customers to be considerate to those around them when choosing whether to wear a face covering and to respect the decision of other customers.”

Spar will also be continuing to follow the government guidance, with a spokesperson stating: “Spar continues to follow all government Covid-related guidelines, and as a result it will not be compulsory for shoppers to wear facemasks in stores in England from Thursday 27 January 2022.”

Meanwhile, Aldi has published a statement on its website which simply reads: “From 27th January, in line with government guidance, wearing a face covering will be a personal choice for customers when shopping in our stores.

“Perspex screens, hand sanitisation stations and cleaning stations remain in stores to use.”

James Lowman, chief executive of the Association of Convenience Stores, has also commented,  saying it is “essential” that retailers clearly communicated their masks policy.

He added: “Covid-related abuse, especially around the wearing of face coverings, has been a significant problem for retailers and colleagues throughout the pandemic, so we ask all customers to be respectful of the policies in place in their local shops.”

Morissons has declined to comment.

Updated 24 Jan @ 13:36 – Sainsbury’s guidance updated
Updated 24 Jan @ 14:01 – Co-op and Asda guidance updated
Updated 25 Jan @ 17:45 – Lidl and BRC guidance updated
Updated 26 Jan @ 14:18 – Spar guidance updated
Updated 27 Jan @ 08:57 – Aldi guidance updated
Updated 27 Jan @ 09:10 – ACS guidance updated

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1 Comment. Leave new

  • Covid hasn’t gone people are still testing positive so why do away with masks? Its not mandatory but I will continue to wear a mask for my own peace of mind. Its a small price to pay to feel safe and maybe protect others. Sometimes you are asymptomatic as is my husband but he has tested positive.


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