A charity has spoken out on behalf of shoppers who need help as supermarket chains tighten restrictions in a bid to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Chains including Morrison’s, Tesco and Sainsbury’s are now stopping people from entering their stores without a face covering, unless they have a medical exemption from doing so, while the latter two are also telling people they should shop alone.
Security guards at Sainsbury’s 35 Scottish supermarkets and Tesco’s near-2oo shops will challenge “large family groups” who try to shop together as they tighten enforcement of Covid rules.
Tesco also made a plea for people to shop alone while remaining “kind, patient and respectful” to others in the aisles.
A Tesco spokeswoman said: “To protect our customers and colleagues, we won’t let anyone into our stores who is not wearing a face covering, unless they are exempt in line with government guidance.
“We are also asking our customers to shop alone, unless they’re a carer or with children.
“To support our colleagues, we will have additional security in stores to help manage this.”
And in an e-mail sent to customers, Sainsbury’s chief executive Simon Roberts said: “When shopping in our stores, you must wear a mask or visor unless you have a medical exemption. And you should also shop on your own.
“Security guards will support our colleagues at the front of store and will challenge customers who are not wearing masks or who are shopping in groups.”
However, there’s concerns that insisting shopping is only done by a single person within a household could cause problems for elderly people reliant on help when navigating the aisles.
Adam Stachura, Age Scotland’s head of policy, said: “Accessing food from supermarkets was a significant challenge for older people during the first lockdown due to long queues, availability of food, distancing measures, getting in-store support with shopping and being able to secure online delivery slots.
“Thankfully we have come a long way since then and supermarkets have been able to adapt and increase their capacity.
“But as we battle the sky-high Covid-19 infection rates, a return to a more cautious approach to instore shopping is inevitable. At least in the short term.
“While supermarkets are now asking for people to visit stores and shop alone, it is important that they recognise large numbers of people who are older, have mobility issues or a disability loss may very well need support to shop from a carer or family member in their bubble.
“For many people with sight loss, navigating one-way systems and maintaining physical distancing in store has been difficult when shopping alone and it may have been hard to get the help from shop staff as a result.
“People shouldn’t be made to feel unwelcome or turned away if they can’t reasonably shop alone.”
Meanwhile shop workers’ trade union Usdaw has called on all supermarkets and food retailers to return to the same level of enforcement as was seen during the first lockdown last year.
General secretary Paddy Lillis said: “Retail staff are working with the public every day and not only suffer increased abuse, but are deeply worried about catching Covid-19.
“The strict safety measures that we agreed with employers in the first lockdown must now be immediately reinstated in every workplace to ensure that staff are working in the safest conditions possible.
“Where safety measures are agreed, retailers need to make sure that they are being followed consistently, in every store.”
Ewan MacDonald-Russell, Scottish Retail Consortium head of policy, added: “Sage data has always highlighted that retail is a safe environment, and firms have spent hundreds of millions 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. Customers should play their part too by following in-store signage and being considerate to staff and fellow shoppers.
“While enforcement of face coverings is the responsibility of the police, retailers continue to do what they can to encourage their use throughout stores. 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.”
Shoppers have been required by law to wear a face covering in shops since October, and anyone medically unable to do so should carry an exemption card , which is available by calling 0800 1216240 or visiting www.exempt.scot