face coverings old man

Mobility retailers across England have shared their thoughts regarding the recent compulsory face coverings rules set to take effect on the 24th of July, discussing the potential impact on consumer confidence.

Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday, the Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock explained the rationale behind plans to make face coverings mandatory in shops and supermarkets.

“In recent weeks, we have reopened retail and footfall is rising. We want to give people more confidence to shop safely, and enhance protections for those who work in shops,” he said.

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“Both of these can be done by the use of face coverings.”

Importantly, the Health and Social Care Secretary also highlighted the increased risk of transmission for those that have worked in the retail sector throughout the pandemic.

“Sadly, sales assistants, cashiers and security guards have suffered disproportionately in this crisis,” he continued.

“The death rate of sales and retail assistants is 75 per cent higher among men, and 60 per cent higher among women than in the general population. So as we restore shopping, so we must keep our shopkeepers safe.

“There is also evidence that face coverings increase confidence in people to shop.”

“We have a rural, elderly demographic and a very low incidence of COVID-19 in our part of Suffolk and coronavirus does not rank very high as a concern for many people.” Veronica Downing

Under the new rules, people who do not wear a face covering will face a fine of up to £100 whilst children under 11 and those with certain disabilities will be exempt.

According to details provided by the Health and Social Care Secretary, shops have the ability to refuse entry to those not wearing a face covering and can call the police who have formal enforcement powers and can issue a fine.

The announcement received a mixed reception from mobility dealers across England.

“I believe the government’s announcement regarding face masks, along with mention of a second spike, has set us back” Dave Thompson MBE DL

Speaking with Alastair Gibbs, Managing Director of Hereford-based TPG DisableAids, he remained optimistic that the mandatory measures may help to increase consumer confidence, however, questioned how successful mandatory face coverings will be for reducing transmission.

“Face mask use in public has been recommended in the UK since mid-May. The uptake in the UK has been approximately 35 per cent compared to 86 per cent in Spain and 83 per cent in Italy. The infection rates, however, are very similar,” he observed.

“So the conclusion must be that it can do no harm, and it may boost confidence in those that are nervous to go out shopping. There are still lots of exclusions and, in reality, it will not be policed but as the retailers/shopkeepers do not need to wear face coverings, I just wonder how effective it will be or how compliant our customers will be.”

“My opinion is that it won’t put people off once they get used to the idea of wearing masks and footfall to shops will keep increasing as confidence grows.” Alex Wrenn

Dave Thompson MBE DL, Chief Executive of the Disability Trading Company, however, shared a different view on what impact the introduction of compulsory coverings will have on shoppers’ confidence after five weeks of retail having been opened.

“I believe the government’s announcement regarding face masks, along with mention of a second spike, has set us back,” he contended.

“I have been in regular Zoom meetings with disabled people right the way through the COVID-19 crisis and I have no doubt that this will make many disabled people more cautious and wary to visit shops.

“There has been growing confidence over the past four weeks, especially as people finished shielding, but I think the announcement will set some people back in their willingness to visit shops.

“We will meet the requirements but it seems a strange time to introduce this now, considering the number of COVID-19 cases – thankfully – is falling.”

face mask senior woman

With many mobility retailers having already introduced stringent COVID-19 Secure measures, some mobility bosses, such as Stuart Dunne, Managing Director of Cyclone Mobility, have queried the need to introduce compulsory coverings in the sector.

“We have been safely dealing with customers with various approaches. Some wearing masks and some not,” said Stuart.

“With the low volume of clients in the mobility sector, I do not believe this should be mandatory.”

It is a view somewhat echoed by Veronica Downing, Director of Suffolk-based Rehability, who emphasised the steps her company has taken to keep her customers and staff safe during the lockdown.

“As our shop is not large, we have a restriction on the number of customers at a time to one customer and a family member or carer,” she explained.

“Our sales staff and technicians wear face masks and shields when working directly with customers. Everyone has to use hand sanitiser at the door and we have placed coverings on chairs and seats.”

Veronica added: “For our shop, I believe the steps we are taking of restricting the number of people to two and having staff use PPE, along with everyone hand sanitising, ought to be sufficient.

“However, I understand the new ruling to encompass all shops, so small retailers like ourselves will need to observe mask-wearing.”

“So the conclusion must be that it can do no harm, and it may boost confidence in those that are nervous to go out shopping.” TPG DisableAids

In addition, she emphasised an issue around compliance with customers, continuing: “The difficulty with enforcing the wearing of face masks by customers in our shop is that many of the elderly customers do not see or appreciate the need to wear masks or even use the sanitiser.

“We have a rural, elderly demographic and a very low incidence of COVID-19 in our part of Suffolk and coronavirus does not rank very high as a concern for many people.”

Pointing out the retail opportunity inherent with the face-covering policy, however, Alex Wrenn, Director of online mobility retailer Essential Aids, suggested shoppers in England would adapt quickly to the new coverings rule as they have in other countries.

“Essential Aids has been carrying disposable face masks, plastic face shields, gloves and high alcohol hand sanitizers for the last few months and sales of masks, in particular, are growing all the time,” he said.

“The most common feedback from our customers is that they’re looking for masks which allow some air-flow so they don’t feel hot or too restricted around their mouth and nose.

“My opinion is that it won’t put people off once they get used to the idea of wearing masks and footfall to shops will keep increasing as confidence grows.

“We’ve seen in other parts of Europe which adopted the wearing of masks some time ago that once it takes hold, it becomes the new norm very quickly.”

“With the low volume of clients in the mobility sector, I do not believe this should be mandatory.” Stuart Dunne

Also noting the success other countries have had with using face masks, Karen Sheppard, Managing Director of Skegness-based People First Mobility, cautioned that the measures may result in people forgoing other measures, whilst others may not know how to correctly use face coverings effectively.

“I think face masks are a good idea in shops and other countries have implemented it a while ago, however, I think people may feel safer than they are and may not then continue social distancing,” she finished.

“In the mobility sector, I do not think many will wear the masks due to health issues and many older people who I have seen wearing them also have the coverings just over their mouth but not covering their nose or they just pull it down to talk to you.”

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