// Ministers have been warned for putting the high street above public health
// Sainsbury’s, Lidl, Morrisons and B&M were handed warning notices by Barking and Dagenham council
// Staff had failed to enforce mask-wearing and reminding customers to social distance
Ministers have reportedly been criticised for putting the high street above public health after the business department issued council leaders enforcement notices on face masks in supermarkets.
Sainsbury’s, Lidl, Morrisons and B&M were handed warning notices by Barking and Dagenham council in east London after their staff were seen failing to enforce mask-wearing and reminding customers to social distance, The Guardian reported.
Stores complained to the Department for Business, Enterprise and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) after the enforcement notices were issued under antisocial behaviour legislation.
A senior official at BEIS then phoned the council and said it “did not have powers to enforce these guidelines using the government’s Covid-19 emergency powers”.
According to a letter of complaint from the council to business secretary Alok Sharma, the official also said that “the action had caused a negative reaction from the operators”.
The letter said that the BEIS official, who said she was acting on behalf of Sharma, asked the council “to refrain from taking any further action against Lidl, B&M, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons supermarket operations”.
The wearing of masks in shops was made compulsory in England from July 24, with fines for non-compliance.
However, supermarkets have since said they would not be responsible for enforcing the law, due to fears of confrontation and crime.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last week that the country had become “blasé” about following restrictions to bring the pandemic under control.
Meanwhile, Barking and Dagenham recorded a 65 per cent increase in Covid-19 cases last week.
The council said it was using antisocial behaviour legislation against retailers because the emergency Covid legislation did not give it the powers to take such action.