Supermarkets ask shoppers to keep wearing masks after July 19

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A security guard (R) speaks with a member of the store team as they stand at the entrance to a branch of the Sainsbury's supermarket chain following the company's decision to enforce the mandatory wearing of face masks in their stores, on January 12, 2021 in London, United Kingdom.(Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Britain’s biggest supermarket groups will encourage staff and customers to keep wearing face coverings from Monday despite new rules making it a matter of personal choice.

The government is removing most pandemic restrictions from July 19 in England, saying a rapid rollout of Covid-19 vaccines has largely broken the link between infections and serious illness or death.

Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Aldi all said they would prefer staff and customers to keep wearing masks.

The groups – who are among Britain’s biggest private sector employers – said they would keep other safety measures in place, including limits on the number of people in stores, protective screens at checkouts and regular cleaning.

“We’re asking our customers and colleagues to be on the safe side,” Tesco, Britain’s biggest supermarket group, said.

Sainsbury’s said in a statement on Wednesday that signs and tannoy messages in stores would encourage customers to wear a face covering, if they can.

Staff will also be encouraged to wear a mask unless they are behind a screen.

“Our colleagues’ safety is vital and many of our colleagues would feel more comfortable if those who can wear face coverings continue to wear them,” chief executive Simon Roberts said. “We’ve listened closely to our customers too and they are telling us the same.”

An opinion poll published on Thursday by Kantar Public found two thirds of people wanted some, most or all of the coronavirus restrictions to remain and 60 per cent thought everyone should continue to wear face masks in shops and on public transport.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has acknowledged that a wave of infections is inevitable when restrictions end, but said worse harm would come from keeping the economy shut and pointed to the successful vaccine rollout.

Government advice is that people should still wear masks in crowded areas. London Mayor Sadiq Khan said they will remain mandatory on the capital’s public transport network.

Meanwhile, the government has issued a new Covid-19 guidance applicable from 19 July to support businesses in England to to manage risk and support their staff and customers.

The guidance asks to consider encouraging, for example through signage, the use of face coverings by workers, particularly in areas where they may come into contact with customers.