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Need To Know: Supermarkets crackdown on mask refuseniks

Cover up: Shoppers queuing outside Waitrose in Balham, south London PICTURE: REX

■ More supermarkets join crackdown on maskless shoppers

TESCO, Asda and Waitrose are the latest supermarkets to take a tougher stance on customers who refuse to wear a face covering without a medical exemption, and implored shoppers to be respectful towards staff.

The Co-op did not confirm whether it would ban customers without masks but said it will increase its in-store messaging.

It came as a police chief said officers will be on stand-by to help with dissenters who become ‘aggressive’ in supermarkets.

Today, Tesco said it will not let customers who are not wearing a face covering into its stores unless they are exempt in line with government guidance, as it asked shoppers to be ‘kind, patient and respectful’ towards staff.

A spokesman said: ‘We are also asking our customers to shop alone, unless they’re a carer or with children.

‘To support our colleagues, we will have additional security in stores to help manage this.’

Echoing Tesco’s calls for customers to treat staff with respect, an Asda spokesman said: ‘If a customer has forgotten their face covering, we will continue to offer them one free of charge.

‘But should a customer refuse to wear a covering without a valid medical reason and be in any way challenging to our colleagues about doing so, our security colleagues will refuse their entry.’

Waitrose is also following suit with marshals at entrances to offer disposable masks and deny entry to anyone refusing to comply.

They are the latest supermarkets to ban maskless shoppers, after Morrisons announced it would enforce the wearing of masks for customers unless they are medically exempt, while Sainsbury’s said its security staff at entrances will ‘challenge’ shoppers who are not wearing face coverings or who enter stores in groups.

■ Dame Joan Bakewell threatens legal action over second jab delay

VETERAN TV presenter Baroness Dame Joan Bakewell is threatening the government with legal action over delays to the second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

The Labour life peer (pictured) said there were grounds to show the decision taken by ministers to delay the second dose by up to 12 weeks was unlawful.

Originally, those having the vaccine were told their doses would be given 21 days apart, but the government has now stretched the timeline for the second dose to between three and 12 weeks so more people can be given a first dose.

Baroness Bakewell, 87, has instructed the law firm Leigh Day to start proceedings in response to the new dosing policy, and names the respondent as health secretary Matt Hancock.

She said: ‘Older people are in limbo: they need to know whether delaying the Pfizer vaccine is both safe and legal. I am bringing this case because I believe the government needs to make this clear.’

The move follows disquiet among some scientists, with Pfizer saying ‘the safety and efficacy of the vaccine has not been evaluated on different dosing schedules… there is no data to demonstrate that protection after the first dose is sustained after 21 days.’

Other scientists, writing in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), said the new policy is ‘not based on data from the trial, but on an assumption of what would have happened if the second dose hadn’t been given at 21 days’.

However, England’s deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, said the data showed that patients got ‘almost complete protection’ from their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine and could wait for their second dose.

■ Fears for NHS as Covid peak still weeks away

Under pressure: A steady stream of patients arrives at the Royal London Hospital each day

PEAK demand on hospitals might not be reached until ‘early to mid-February’ amid fears ‘unsustainable’ workloads could lead to staff leaving, MPs have been warned.

NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said it was ‘pretty clear’ the Covid-19 infection rate was not going to go down as quickly as it did during the first wave because of the new strain.

He told the health and social care select committee that this could push the peak of NHS demand back to February and lead to a higher level and longer period of pressure.

Mr Hopson also told the committee there had been a ‘mismatch’ in the NHS between rising demand and its capacity for 10 years, with staff expected to work ‘harder and harder’ even before the pandemic.

He said that while staff will do everything they need to in the ‘immediate phase’, health leaders are worried about core staff leaving the health service because of the ‘unsustainable’ workload.

Jeremy Dawson, professor of health management at Sheffield University, also told the committee that the NHS relied on its staff going the extra mile.

‘Discretionary effort is the rocket fuel that powers the NHS. If staff did work to contract and worked to rule, as it were, we simply would not be able to provide anything like the quality of care that we need to,’ he said.

Mr Hopson said a ‘fully costed, long-term, properly funded’ plan for the NHS workforce was absolutely essential.

■ Are you in a Royal Mail Covid blackspot?

You’ve not got mail: Ashford, in Kent, pictured, is one of the areas affected PICTURE: PA

ROYAL Mail has published a list of 28 areas suffering from limited delivery services as more of its workforce is affected by Covid-19.

The zones — comprising 27 in England and one in Northern Ireland — are no longer receiving regular post because of the high numbers of Royal Mail staff who are either off sick or self-isolating.

The affected areas include 13 in or near London, while others include Leeds in West Yorkshire, Chelmsford in Essex, Widnes in Cheshire and Margate in Kent.

With some affected residents complaining of not having had mail delivered for more than a month, fears have also arisen that elderly residents will not receive notifications of when a coronavirus vaccine is available to them.

The issue has prompted calls including from MPs and the Communication Workers Union, for postal workers to be added to the priority list of people receiving coronavirus vaccinations.