MIA in discussion with BEIS & DHSC over new regulations

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As of Tuesday 30th November, the Government has made the wearing of face coverings compulsory in shops in England. To gain an insight into the latest information directly from the Government, our General Manager Alice attended a discussion with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department of Health and Social Care.

The speakers on the call were Charles McCall, Head of Retail and Professional Business Services (Domestic) at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Mark Harrop who works for the Department of Health and Social Care on NHS Test and Trace External Affairs.

The meeting took place at 5pm on Monday 29th November, ahead of the guidance being published later that evening. You can now read the Government’s guidance in full here. There are 2 important points that retailers must be aware of:

  • The regulations require both customers AND staff to wear face coverings in shops from Tuesday November 30th until December 20th initially, when the requirements will be reviewed.
  • It is a legal requirement to provide signage in a prominent position about the obligation – businesses can be prosecuted for failing to display signage.

At the beginning of the call, it was emphasised that the Government is not issuing any new restrictions on social distancing or venue capacity; the new guidance is all around the wearing of face coverings in retail, schools and on public transport. The guidance is also specific to trading interactions in physical premises – not delivering or close contact services.

Here are some of the key questions and answers that came up:

Why is the wearing of face coverings important in retail?
We’re approaching the period where lots of people are going shopping – the measure is to give customers confidence and try to mitigate the spread in a setting that will be busy.

Do retailers have to enforce the wearing of face coverings?
No. It’s not the responsibility of retailers to enforce mask wearing to the general public. Enforcement is the responsibility of the police and local authorities. However, it is a legal requirement for businesses to provide signage in a prominent position about the obligation.

Is the requirement for customers only, or customers and colleagues? 
The wearing of face coverings is compulsory for both customers and employees in customer facing roles.

Do colleagues still need to wear face coverings if there is a perspex screen in place between customers and staff? 
Yes, masks are still required despite the provision of perspex screens.

Do the people who work in our distribution centres, warehouses and offices have to wear face coverings?
Face masks do not need to be worn by those who would not come into contact with customers. It is also understood that staff do not need to wear face coverings when the shop is closed.

What is the guidance for retailers that also offer close contact services? (In the case of MI; trying instruments, teaching etc.)
The remit of the new guidance is only around the wearing of face coverings, it is not about limiting services or stopping provisions. Therefore, Charles’s view is that the legislation will not stop the customer being able to remove their mask for service to be fulfilled.

What about colleagues who look after deliveries, installations, and go into customers homes? 
The new regulations only apply in shops. The advice for these services is to be cautious and to consider wearing a face covering to protect yourself and others.

After the Q&A, retailers on the call expressed that their preference is for regulations to stay the same between now and the new year. This will allow for consistency in message and avoid confusion amongst customers.

There was also a discussion around self-isolation rules and the Omicron variant. The people who have been identified as having the Omicron variant so far have been required to isolate for 10 days despite their vaccination status. If this is going to be the case going forward, it could cause operational staffing issues for the retail sector.

There are still unanswered questions around how to find out whether you have the Omicron variant, and whether lateral flow tests picking up the new variant. Guidance will follow once more research has been done, and we will be sure to bring you the latest updates.