Confusion over mask-wearing and vaccine passports as plans to ease England’s controls confirmed
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Last modified on Mon 12 Jul 2021 14.39 EDT
The retail and hospitality sectors have demanded greater clarity from the government on Covid-19 safety guidelines after restrictions are lifted in England on 19 July, amid confusion over mask-wearing and vaccine passport checks.
The health secretary, Sajid Javid, on Monday confirmed plans to ease pandemic-related controls that have kept many hospitality venues shut or restricted trade.
While pubs, bars and clubs will not be required to screen guests for proof of vaccination, the government said indoor venues will be “supported and encouraged” to check their status via the NHS mobile phone app.
However, an official government report released at the same time made no mention of venues being under pressure to perform checks, saying only that they were “discretionary”.
Aaron Mellor, the managing director of the nightclub firm Tokyo Industries, said it would not monitor guests’ vaccine status on the doors of its 45 venues, which include Digital in Newcastle and the Factory in Manchester.
“We’ve had another 18 months of closures and we need to get back open again with as little frustration as possible,” he said.
“We wouldn’t insist on it unless it was mandatory.”
A poll of members of the Night Time Industries Association trade body found that at least 70% take the same view, fearing the measure would hinder long-awaited reopening plans.
“We don’t take protection of customers and staff lightly but we respect the government’s position on personal choice,” said the NTIA’s chief executive, Michael Kill.
Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of the trade body UKHospitality, said it was “hugely positive” that hospitality venues such as pubs and bars would not be ordered to screen customers.
But while hospitality firms welcomed the easing of restrictions, unions said staff could be put at risk, while business groups lamented a lack of clarity.
The Federation of Small Businesses said its members needed “clear workplace guidance” to operate safely. The government will lift the work-from-home order on 19 July but Boris Johnson said he did not expect a mass return to offices, with a “gradual” return to work over the summer.
Mike Cherry, the chair of the FSB, said: “We cannot allow removing legal guidance to create a free-for-all, with any voluntary guidance ignored, which is why it is vital that clarity around the new state of play is given immediately.”
Claire Walker, a co-executive director of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “Firms have been told to make their own judgments on which Covid secure measures to keep and which to ditch. But they are not public health experts and guidance from government is needed.”
The shopworkers’ union said it was “deeply disappointed” with the government’s decision to scrap mandatory mask-wearing in shops.
Paddy Lillis, the general secretary of the Usdaw union, said: “The government should not be weakening safety measures in shops at the same time as opening up other venues.
“There is no reason why requirements to wear face coverings and maintain social distancing in busy public areas like shops cannot continue, and it should be backed up by the law.”
The union said it would ask retailers to promote face coverings, hand washing and social distancing but feared shopworkers could face an escalation in abuse for enforcing such measures if they are no longer a legal requirement.
Industry insiders said major retailers were expected to maintain some protection for staff, such as screens in front of tills and the option to continue wearing masks. However, signage asking customers to wear masks is expected to be toned down and social-distancing markers removed in many stores.
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