Concerns amongst employees Mandatory masks for shopping ends - protective measures remain

Before going shopping, many people check not only whether they have their wallet with them - but also their mask. The obligation to do so will be abolished in many places in a few days. What does that mean in concrete terms in the shops?

 The government-mandated requirement to wear a mask when shopping will be dropped in many parts of Germany when shops open on Monday - but some protective measures could remain.

The government-mandated requirement to wear a mask when shopping will be dropped in many parts of Germany when shops open on Monday - but some protective measures could remain.

Foto: dpa/Robert Michael

After long Corona regulations, people in large parts of Germany can prepare to go shopping without a mask again as of next week. The state obligation to do so will mostly be dropped when shops open on Monday - but certain safeguards may remain.

Retailers assume that many customers will continue to come voluntarily with a mask. Hygiene concepts can also be implemented locally to protect staff. The trade union Verdi reported concerns among the employees.

Politics has set the framework

The Managing Director of the German Retail Association (HDE), Stefan Genth, told the Deutsche Presse-Agentur on Wednesday: "With the amendment of the Infection Protection Act, the legislator has decided that the obligation to wear masks can now only be ordered in exceptional cases and in special hotspots." Politicians set the framework for combating the pandemic - and companies do their utmost to implement the requirements.

In principle, retailers could make use of their domiciliary rights and continue to prescribe the wearing of masks. This could not be ruled out, Genth said. "The next few weeks will show to what extent this will be practised." According to information from several chains, however, a large part of them will probably refrain from doing so. Industry sources said that such a company-specific mask requirement would not be enforceable.

Which retailers plan to do what

Meanwhile, several retail chains continued to call for masks. The furniture retailer Ikea explained that they were making regulations according to government guidelines - should the mask requirement be lifted in the retail sector, this would also apply to Ikea. "However, in view of the dynamic incidence of infection, we are happy to point out that wearing a mouth-nose protection will continue to protect oneself and others," a spokeswoman said. Electronics retailer MediaMarktSaturn said, "We ask and encourage our customers to continue wearing a protective mask.“

The Ernsting's family clothing chain said that if individual countries invoke the hotspot rule, the mask requirement will continue to apply - and where countries lift the requirement, it will be relaxed accordingly. This applies to both customers and employees. However, it is recommended to put on the mask during close contact, such as in a counselling interview, to be tested regularly and to watch out for symptoms.

At the Woolworth department stores' chain, the mask requirement will also be dropped from next week. "We do not see house rules alone as a basis for such a restrictive measure," said a spokesperson. Woolworth also does not want to require its own staff to wear masks. The company is counting on customers and staff to deal with the situation responsibly. The perfumery chain Douglas made a similar statement.

The bookstore chain Thalia said that the mask requirement would not be maintained after 3 April. Employees will continue to be provided with self-tests and masks, the use of which is voluntary. The mask requirement will also be dropped at textile retailer Primark. "If there is no legal requirement, we recommend wearing masks," said a spokesperson. It is hoped "that people will continue to think of others and wear them when they can“.

Regulations for hotspots

According to the amended Infection Protection Act, as of this Sunday, the federal states are only allowed to impose a few everyday regulations on masks, for example in clinics and nursing homes. They will be able to impose more far-reaching requirements, including mask obligations in shops, in regional hotspots if the state parliament determines that there is an imminent critical corona situation. For the time being, such hotspots are only planned in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Hamburg.

Some grocery stores and drugstore chains kept a low profile when asked and only stated that they always implement the state's requirements - Rewe, Lidl and dm, for example, did not say how they would proceed next week. The food retailer Globus, with 53 markets, made a firm statement: "If the mask requirement is dropped, it will also be dropped in our market halls," said Globus manager Sascha De Rosa. Employees and customers are free to "continue to wear a mask to protect themselves and others“.

Companies want to avoid sick leave

Disinfectants at the shop entrance and plexiglass panels at cash registers or information counters will continue to be available - several companies emphasised this. Several companies emphasised this, "also because it often corresponds to the majority of customers' wishes and is perceived as a special service", the association said.

In addition to the customers, the Corona rules are also about the staff - and the interest of the companies to avoid many absences due to illness. Verdi board member Stefanie Nutzenberger told the newspapers of the Funke Mediengruppe (Wednesday): "The employees are very worried. They have literally kept the shop running for two years now in the pandemic and have the right to be protected." If individual companies decided to impose mask requirements, it would be confusing for customers, he said. It would be desirable to have nationwide regulations that protect employees and customers.

The association stressed that companies continue to take the health protection of their staff very seriously. According to the Occupational Health and Safety Ordinance, employers had to determine the necessary measures with a risk assessment and define them in company hygiene concepts. For a further obligation of staff to wear masks, it is important whether other organisational and technical protective measures cannot be implemented or are not sufficient. "In case of doubt, it depends on the individual case and the concrete circumstances on site," said General Manager Genth.

(Original text: Wolf von Dewitz and Sascha Meyer, dpa;Translation: Mareike Graepel)

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