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Face Coverings in Shops – Personal Responsibility and Community Resilience

Thursday, July 16th, 2020

On 14th July, the Health Secretary made a well-trailed announcement that face coverings would be mandatory in shops and supermarkets in England from July 24th.


The announcement drew a predictable range of reactions:

Why has the Government only now introduced this measure? Is it not another U-turn? Is this further mixed messaging? Why wait until July 24th? Will it really encourage confidence in going to the shops? How can such a measure be policed? Is it putting an intolerable burden on shopkeepers?

We shouldn’t allow these arguments, some of course political, to deflect from compliance. In addition to helping the community set local policing priorities, Chiltern Community Forum encourages communities to develop greater resilience by residents taking personal responsibility. What more clear example could one have of individual responsibility contributing to improved community resilience?

For several months, residents and communities have pulled together in a remarkable collective effort. More recently, as we have emerged from almost total lockdown, there has been more scope for ambiguity or misunderstanding. There have been departures from quidelines – some flagrant and irresponsible, others unwitting and more innocent.

In the case of face coverings in shops, the only possible ambiguity lies in some of the exemptions. But the regulations will cover the vast majority, and the purpose is for us to help protect others perhaps more than ourselves; wilful non-compliance should be seen as socially unacceptable.

GOV.UK: Face coverings: when to wear one and how to make your own

That said, we would also ask residents to remember that a number of conditions covered by exemptions would not be visibly apparent. So please don’t be too hasty in jumping to conclusions.

What if we don’t comply? GOV.UK states that “shops and supermarkets will be expected to encourage compliance with the law (as they would do more generally) and can refuse entry… if necessary, the police have the powers to enforce these measures, including through issuing a fine of £100 (halving to £50 if paid within 14 days)”.

Coronavirus: What powers do the police have? (BBC 22 July 2020)

At the Forum’s well-attended May meeting, we learned how dealing with COVID-19 had stretched local police resources. Police Officers had been retasked to other duties, with the burden of local COVID-19 policing falling considerably on our PCSO’s. This had been addressed through the 4 E’s approach; Engage, Explain, Encourage and lastly Enforce.

The diverted officers have returned but are still required to cover the response teams when necessary. Do we now want our relatively small neighbourhood police teams redirected from priorities set by the community, to having to patrol shops and intervene on behalf of shopkeepers? Of course not – so by complying, we can also help our community more broadly.

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