Shoppers at Sainsbury’s will be encouraged to keep wearing masks in stores next week even though it will no longer be legally required.

The company became the first major supermarket to reveal its stance hours after the government published guidance saying it “expects and recommends that people continue to wear a face covering in crowded, enclosed spaces”.

Sainsbury’s said new signs and tannoy messages “will encourage customers to continue to wear a face covering, if they can” with staff also encouraged to do so, unless they are behind a screen.

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“While wearing a face covering will become a personal choice, the decision to ask everyone in stores to continue to wear a face covering if they can reflects feedback from customers and colleagues where the majority of people surveyed want to keep the policy in place,” the company said.

Sainsbury’s, which is Britain’s second biggest supermarket chain, said that some screens would be gradually removed from stores in England but those separating customers and check-out staff would remain in place.

The retailer added that hand sanitiser stations would remain stores while it would continue with thorough cleaning of trollies and baskets and deep cleaning overnight.

Chief executive Simon Roberts said: “As we respond to the recent change in government guidance, we know that safety is still top of mind for many of our colleagues and customers.

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“Our colleagues’ safety is vital and many of our colleagues would feel more comfortable if those who can wear face coverings continue to wear them.

“We’ve listened closely to our customers too and they are telling us the same.

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“We’re asking everyone to be considerate and, while we understand wearing a face covering will now be a personal choice, we want to ensure we best support and protect each other in the weeks and months ahead.”

The announcement comes after bookshop chain Waterstones said it would continue to encourage customers to wear masks and observe social distancing in its stores.

Government guidelines for workplaces issued on Wednesday were criticised by union and business groups for failing to provide clarity as they shift the onus on employers to manage risks to staff and customers.

Local authorities in some parts of England including London will continue to tell passengers to wear masks on public transport though rail and bus operator Go-Ahead said it would not insist that they do unless ordered.

Meanwhile nightclub operator REKOM UK has shunned the government’s encouragement that such businesses should use COVID passports to try to minimise the risk of transmission of the virus.

Sky News has contacted other supermarket groups asking them to confirm their policies.

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