Richard Walker said it would cost millions to ensure customers visiting his stores were wearing face masks.
Iceland MD Walker told the BBC’s Today Programme: “We spend millions on security each year but the scale of this is such that we simply cannot police every store, every hour of every day. It would cost millions and put us out of business.”
Face masks today became compulsory again in shops and on public transport in England as part of efforts to contain the new omicron strain of Covid-19.
Walker said Iceland would be “politely asking customers” to follow the rules but he won’t ask staff to enforce masks.
“The question isn’t whether we should mandate face masks, it’s whether we can mandate them,” he said. “What I won’t be doing is asking my store colleagues to police those who refuse to adhere to the rules.”
Walker said asking people to wear masks made staff a target for abuse. Iceland records an average of 4,000 incidents of abuse each year but this increased to around 50 a week during the first lockdown last year.
“Since staff were told not to challenge customers, that figure dropped ten fold,” he said. “If the government wants this to happen then the government must step in and help businesses like ours enforce and police the wearing of masks.”
Sainsbury’s CEO Simon Roberts today told customers the supermarket would “have greeters and security guards at the front of our supermarkets to support our colleagues as we help everyone get used to the new rules.”
Helen Dickinson, CEO of the British Retail Consortium, said: “Enforcement of face coverings must remain the duty of the authorities.”
The reintroduction of mask wearing in shops has sparked fears that Christmas sales could be dented as customers choose to shop online instead.
However, Brian Bickell, CEO of West End landlord Shaftesbury, told the Standard: “Requiring people to wear masks is just a small inconvenience if it means that we can all enjoy the Christmas and New Year that we didn’t have last year.”
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