Mark Drakeford announces tougher restrictions for Welsh retailers after ‘significant evidence’ virus being spread in supermarkets

First Minister Mark Drakeford announced new laws for retailers yesterday in order to curtail the spread of the new variant of covid-19 .

Speaking at Friday’s Welsh Government Covid briefing, Mr. Drakeford said the Government had acted because the Test, Trace, Protect scheme had shown there was “no doubt at all” transmission was taking place in supermarkets, despite the strict lockdown restrictions, and that safety measures were less visible than at the start of the pandemic.

Retailers also move to ensure staff and customer safety

The move comes as many major retailers have responded to staff concerns by announcing stricter enforcement of mask wearing rules, with leading supermarkets now offering masks at doors and refusing entry to shoppers not wearing a mask unless they are exempt under Government guidelines.  Face coverings became mandatory in indoor public places on September 14, 2020 in Wales, but until now supermarkets have not enforced this.  Shoppers will also be encouraged to shop alone where possible, reducing the risk of exposure for shop workers.

Mr. Drakeford said that both customers and staff had raised concerns over safety, with customers refusing to wear masks, abusing staff if challenged, and other customers shopping in large groups and refusing to follow hygiene measures.

The new laws, which will come into force from Monday, require retailers to have:

  • sanitiser available for hands and trolleys
  • Clear, visible signage to maintain social distancing and guide customers safely round the store
  • A safe system in place to restrict the number of shoppers in store at any time
  • Businesses in Wales with more than 5 employees will have to conduct a coronavirus risk assessment

These measures were already guidance, but will now be law, and supermarket owners and managers will be responsible for ensuring the new rules are followed.  Mr. Drakeford said:

“I don’t want anybody to get the idea that supermarkets are dangerous places – supermarkets are safe places and we’re incredibly grateful to all those brave members of staff who have been in there, providing face-to-face services to members of the public since the very beginning of the pandemic.  We want to make sure that they are even safer.”

Staff suffering abuse and worried about catching virus

Shopworker’s Union USDAW welcomed the news, with a spokesman saying:

“Retail staff are working with the public every day and not only suffer increased abuse, but are deeply worried about catching Covid-19.

“We are very concerned by reports from our members that too many customers are abusing shopworkers and not following necessary safety measures, like social distancing, wearing a face covering and shopping alone where possible for essential items only. Usdaw is urging the shopping public to strictly follow the rules and respect shopworkers. Supermarket staff have worked throughout the pandemic to keep the country supplied with essentials. These key workers must be valued, respected and protected.”

Sara Jones, head of the Welsh Retail Consortium called on customers to play their part, and called on the Government to legislate for better protection for shop workers.  Sara said:

“We ask that all customers play their part in keeping our stores safe, shopping alone where possible, following in-store signage and being considerate to staff and fellow shoppers,” she said.

“We also ask that government considers legislating for better protections for shop workers, as is being planned in Scotland.”