A Chinese customer inspects a handbag as she shops at Harrods department store in London on December 10, 2012 two weeks ahead of Christmas. (AFP/Ben Stansall)
Harrods Department Store Co., a big tourist attraction in London for Chinese shoppers, has prohibited staff from wearing masks when dealing with customers because it may fan unfounded concern about coronavirus.
The luxury British department store said it’s not allowing face masks on shop floors due to the “risk of spreading further anxiety” among customers and staff.
The move illustrates the dilemma starting to face retailers thousands of miles from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus outbreak began: if they allow employees to wear face-masks, it could scare customers, but if masks are banned, employees might become concerned that their health may be at risk.
The World Health Organization has said that non-infected people need only wear face-masks if they’re caring for someone who is infected. The WHO advises that people who are coughing or sneezing wear face-masks, as the disease can spread via droplets of saliva.
Wearing masks may create a false sense of security among the general public because they’re only effective when accompanied by frequent hand-cleaning, officials at the Geneva-based body have also said. Only certain face-masks are fully effective, and they need to be placed properly. The WHO estimates the virus can survive for about 30 minutes on surfaces.
Harrods said it its decision is based on advice from Public Health England, which says that masks aren’t necessary.
“If employees have any further concerns, we welcome managers to have conversations on how they could feel more secure,” the store said in a statement.
Usdaw, a UK union that represents more than 430,000 shopworkers, said it has received queries from members about the possible risks of the coronavirus at work and was referring to guidance issued by the WHO.
The British Retail Consortium, a trade body, said its members were well aware of the potential risks posed by the coronavirus to their staff and customers and had effective measures in place.
“Retailers are continuing to adhere to high standards of hygiene which is the best way of protecting their colleagues and shoppers,“ said Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the BRC in a written statement.
The coronavirus is the latest challenge to hit the British retail industry, which is already grappling with intense competition, rising costs, fewer shopper visits and the growing shift to online shopping.
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