Monday is a huge day for England. After over a year of living under rules we’d have once considered unthinkable, the lifting of social contact restrictions takes us all into uncharted territory in this pandemic: when COVID-19 safety measures go from being set by government to personal choice. It’s prompted lots of heated debate – will you keep wearing one? I don’t think anyone enjoys wearing a mask and we’d all love for life to go back to normal.
We know that our decision to encourage our customers to continue wearing face coverings in our stores, if they can – won’t please everyone. But we firmly believe it’s the right thing to do. Our colleagues have gone to extraordinary lengths to continue feeding the nation during the toughest days of the pandemic. They are our heroes. We owe it to them to make sure they feel safe at work.
Since the government announced it would drop the requirement to wear face coverings, we’ve spent a lot of time talking and listening to our colleagues about what would make them feel safest; not only from the virus, but also from the minority of customers who sadly believe that abuse and violence are an acceptable way to respond to pandemic safety measures. We don’t want any doubt about our position. That’s why we’re keeping the safety measures that our colleagues care most about: not only asking our customers to continue wearing face coverings, if they can, but also keeping screens between customers and colleagues at checkouts, deep cleaning our stores each night and sanitising trolleys and baskets between use.
It’s not just our colleagues. We’ve been listening to our customers too. Most of them want the same thing: to keep measures in place so they can feel as safe as possible in our stores. Many are worried about the easing of restrictions and the majority would like us to continue encouraging everyone to wear face coverings, if they can. Throughout the pandemic, lots of our customers – especially older and vulnerable people – felt safest shopping online. They are only just returning to stores and are understandably nervous. We want to help them feel comfortable when they’re out and about.
We recognise that encouraging people to wear a face covering if they can won’t be welcomed by some. As a country, we are making our way out of a period of severely restricted freedoms – the kind of freedoms we normally take for granted. I don’t particularly like wearing a face mask, but I will continue to wear one whenever I’m in a store or other busy places. I’ll do this in support of all the retail workers who have done so much for us throughout this pandemic. And I’ll do it for our customers, many of whom are still getting to grips with how to stay safe in the outside world. It’s reassuring to see lots of other retailers coming out to support the continued wearing of face coverings in stores and other enclosed spaces – it means that there will be more and more places where people feel safe to work and shop.
Wearing face coverings is a personal decision, but we hope that our customers can get behind the idea of continuing to shop safely for the benefit of everyone in our stores. Yes, masks might be a bit annoying, but we think they are a small price to pay for keeping our communities safe as we all navigate what will hopefully be the final stages of this pandemic.