Lancashire shop owners fear backlash over face coverings

From Friday (July 24), it will be mandatory to wear face coverings in shops and supermarkets.

Thursday, 23rd July 2020, 11:37 am

Up to now, the wearing of face coverings has been optional for the public in most situations in England.

But after months of debate about the effectiveness of masks, the Government has now decided to act.

Police will have the power to impose a £100 fine on anyone refusing to wear a mask in a shop or a supermarket.

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BID Preston is providing free face masks for city centre shoppers.

But a police body says the new law is “unenforceable” with the current stretched police resources.

And the new mask law doesn’t apply to shop staff themselves, or to cafes and pubs.

Confused? Many people are.

The Lancashire-headquartered Federation of Small Businesses hopes the new law won’t give customers an excuse to abuse staff - because in the absence of the police it will be up to them to monitor the situation.

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So shop owners and official bodies hope that the Lancashire public will act responsibly.

Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner, Clive Grunshaw said: “Coronavirus is still with us and the move to make face coverings mandatory in shops is a reminder of this.

“I would expect government to come forward with more detail on how they expect enforcement to take place on such a wide scale.

“The public has a role to play as well by following the guidance.

“That means people must abide by social distancing guidance, wash their hands regularly and for 20 seconds, wear face coverings where appropriate and, if contacted, engage with NHS Test and Trace.

“We have seen in recent months the fantastic response from Lancashire residents to the challenge presented by Covid-19, with the vast majority of people following the rules to keep themselves and others safe.

“I can see no reason why this wouldn’t continue”

Preston City Centre Business Improvement District has handed out thousands of masks already to shoppers in the city centre - and will continue to do so.

Manager Mark Whittle said: “The BID has distributed over 12,000 free face coverings, funded by local businesses, to city centre visitors since June 15, which shows that many members of the public are comfortable wearing a face covering of some sort.

“We hope that the government guidance to wear face coverings in shops will provide some reassurance to people.”

From this week, BID’s face covering facility will be operational on the Flag Market from Wednesday to Saturday from 9.30am to 2.30pm.

After that, the Flag Market facility will cease and free face coverings will be available from St George’s Shopping Centre.

Other business leaders across the county have also put measures in place to help shopper adapt.

Julie Murphy, centre manager at Lancaster’s Marketgate Shopping Centre, said: “The government’s decision to require customers to wear face coverings in shops from July 24 has been widely expected.

“Hopefully this precautionary measure will make people feel safe in a shopping environment knowing that their fellow shoppers are taking precautions to stop the spread of the virus, and will encourage more people back to the shops.

“Marketgate has and will continue to comply with government guidelines and regulations and the safety of our customers and staff is of paramount importance to us.

“We look forward to welcoming more customers back to the centre as we all continue to emerge from lockdown.”

However, one small business owner in Chorley is apprehensive about the move.

He said: “We have no idea how this is going to pan out.

“I hope people will just be sensible, like they have been up to now.

“I don’t expect to see any police around here.”

>> Small firms give backing to new regulations on prevention

The Lancashire-headquartered Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) National Chair Mike Cherry welcomed the move.

He said: “Facemasks and coverings can provide a certain level of protection to people you come into close contact with, which could help to stop the spread of the disease and to help get back to business as soon as possible.

“As mandatory face coverings are introduced, small firms know that they have a part to play in the nation’s recovery both physically and financially, and I’m sure this will welcomed by them.

“Of course, we know that facemasks cannot be worn by everyone, and wearing them can pose significant challenges for certain groups, such as those who are deaf and reliant on lip reading.

“We also must be careful that this does not become a trigger for abuse against shop owners and their employees, even though the majority of customers have so far proved accepting of social distancing measures.

“Understanding and empathy should be important watchwords for all if this does happen.

Mr Cherry added: “Only as a last resort should the police get involved.

“To expect my colleagues to be policing the supermarket aisles, looking for those shoppers not wearing a face covering, is unrealistic and unfair.”

>> Face coverings providing businesses with a very welcome boost after suffering a severe downturn due to lockdown

Mandy Robinson from Cleveleys-based Mandy’s Masks said that demand for washable face masks has been intense since the Prime Minister’s announcement that they would be compulsory for people visiting shops from July 24.

Mandy’s 20-year-old sewing business like so many others was changed fundamentally when lockdown happened in March.

Orders for curtains and cushion covers dried up overnight as pubs and caravan parks shut their doors.

So after getting a few requests from elderly customers for masks, she launched into sewing them full time.

“I have been sewing anything from 10 to 30 a day depending on orders.

“We have actually given away as many as we have sold to good causes.

“Now we have had to create another website, Mandy’s Masks as opposed to Mandy’s Sewing.

“I did a lot of research into suitable materials and to see if you can breathe through them easily.

“We are so busy since the announcement.

“I cannot understand why it has taken him so long to do it. It seems obvious.”

Bilal Shah from Broughton based medical supplies firm Obbs Group said demand had started to rise again since the announcement.

The group, which has the Face Masks UK website, saw an initial surge in demand for PPE in March when coronavirus hit hard and protective equipment was hard to come by.

But by June demand had dropped off. But now that has changed again and demand is high. Mr Shah said: “We were giving PPE away free at the start to all key workers, not just the NHS, Royal Mail, transport workers.

We were lucky enough to get a supply, so we thought let’s do something good with it.

“Then it calmed down and now I get the feeling the country has enough stocks of PPE, so we should not see the price rises we did at the start.”

Meanwhile, Burnley based textiles manufacturer Panaz has teamed up with 360

Protex to combine its Shieldplus technology with colourful face mask design.

Panaz are global suppliers of anti-microbial fabrics for the healthcare market and have been supplying the NHS for decades.