LONDON (Reuters) - The British retail sector said on Monday enforcing the wearing of face coverings in stores to limit the spread of COVID-19 was the responsibility of the police and that retailers needed their support.
With infection numbers rising sharply the UK government has expressed concern about the spread of the virus in supermarkets, with people breaching rules by not wearing masks while shopping in them.
"We are concerned that, for example, in supermarkets we need to make sure people actually wear masks and follow the one-way system, and when they are at capacity to operate safely, people wait outside," the Minister for COVID Vaccine Deployment Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News.
But Zahawi stopped short of saying enforcement of the rules should be the responsibility of the supermarkets.
"Our plea is to everybody, each and everyone of us. These rules are not boundaries to be pushed against. These rules are there to try and make sure we bring this virus under control," he said.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC), which represents more than 170 major retailers including the big supermarket groups, said enforcing the wearing of masks in stores was down to the police.
"While enforcement of face coverings is the responsibility of the police, retailers continue to do what they can to encourage their use throughout stores," Andrew Opie, the BRC's director of food & sustainability said.
"Sadly, this has led to a sharp rise in incidents of violence and abuse against shop workers, which is why it is essential police support the work being done by retailers."
Opie also said that data from the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has highlighted that retail is a safe environment, and noted that firms have spent hundreds of millions of pounds on safety measures including perspex screens, additional cleaning, and social distancing.
"Supermarkets continue to follow all safety guidance and customers should be reassured that supermarkets are Covid-secure and safe to visit during lockdown and beyond," he said.
Zahawi also praised supermarkets for doing "a tremendous job" in serving their communities and offering facilities for the vaccination roll-out.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge and James Davey; editing by Estelle Shirbon, Michael Holden and David Evans)