Ministers have told North Yorkshire County Council along with all other local authorities to check that supermarkets are enforcing mask wearing, social distancing and limits on shopper numbers.
Because of their essential role, food retailers have remained open throughout the pandemic and Richard Webb, the county’s director for health and adult services, said they have a “great responsibility” to make sure Covid-safety rules are followed.
Mr Webb said trading standards and environmental health teams have already begun carrying out inspections, with more than 100 visits planned over the coming weeks.
“We welcome the Secretary of State highlighting this issue,” he said. “We also thank those supermarkets and other retailers who are making their shops Covid-secure. This gives shoppers real confidence.
“We must do everything possible to reduce transmission of this deadly virus and supermarkets have a big role to play and must take their responsibility extremely seriously.
“We are asking supermarkets in our county to review and step-up their safety arrangements and our trading standards officers are working with district council environmental health teams to provide the necessary advice and carry out safety reviews.”
Under health and safety laws, councils have powers to issue improvement notices to retailers failing to comply with regulations and shoppers with safety concerns are being urged to report any suspected breaches.
Mr Webb added: “Supermarkets should ensure that people wear masks indoors at all times, that hand sanitiser is in plentiful supply at the entrance and exit of the store and that people are encouraged to use it. Supermarkets should also have the means to ensure people maintain a safe social distance of at least two metres when going about their shopping.”
Before the government ordered all councils to carry out the stepped-up inspections, Mr Webb said health teams had already completed more than 100 routine visits to large retailers in North Yorkshire over Christmas and New Year to make sure they could manage increased footfall and transmission risk.
Not long after the festive period, both Morrisons and Sainsbury’s announced that they would increase efforts to enforce lockdown rules such as the mandatory wearing of masks, except for those people with medical exemptions.
Morrisons said customers who refuse to wear a mask without a medical exemption will be told to leave, while Sainsbury’s said security staff will “challenge” shoppers who are not wearing masks or who enter stores in groups.