As the country battles to get coronavirus under control during a third national lockdown, with new highly-infectious variants threatening to derail efforts, supermarkets have adopted a hardline approach.
Previously big names were slammed for not doing enough to enforce the wearing of face masks and ensure social distancing was being followed.
There were also questions around sanitisation, with claims standards had slipped since the UK was first plunged into lockdown last March.
Rising cases and increasing pressure culminated in all major supermarkets telling shoppers that they must wear face masks unless medically exempt.
Previously customers were simply asked to cover their faces. Some supermarkets say staff can still go without masks providing they are working behind perspex screens or not in contact with customers.
In Leeds, Sainsbury’s was undoubtedly the safest supermarket we visited.
From the very beginning of our visit – where two attendees in masks were stood outside offering hand sanitiser – to the in-store experience, it felt extremely Covid-secure.
All the staff members we saw were wearing masks and there were regular tannoy announcements reminding customers of the new rules.
Each of the checkouts were separated by huge, sturdy plastic screens.
At the entrance to the shop in Liverpool there was a security guard and a member of staff monitoring the number of people coming in and out.
As we entered, most other shoppers were wearing masks but we did notice one elderly man walk in without wearing a mask, unchallenged.
The store has sanitisers as you go in and out for hands, trolleys and baskets.
A large queuing area remains outside though there was no queue when we arrived.
Inside most shoppers were wearing masks.
We only spotted one couple who were shopping together and neither were wearing any kind of face covering.
The store was well stocked and fairly quiet, with most people shopping alone.
Sainsbury’s said: “Safety remains our highest priority and all our stores continue to have a range of measures in place to keep customers and colleagues safe.
“We continue to ask customers to wear face coverings and to shop alone, if they are able to.
“We have greeters outside our supermarkets and busy convenience stores to limit the number of customers.
“Trained security guards will be supporting colleagues in stores that need extra help.”
Chief executive Simon Roberts this week told customers: “We continue to limit the number of people in our shops at any one time and we have greeters outside every supermarket to help with this.
“We are also asking all customers to please wear a mask and to shop alone.
“This will help us limit the number of people shopping at any one time and help everyone shop and work safely.”
Morrisons became the first UK supermarket chain to ban all shoppers who refuse to wear a face mask unless they are medically exempt.
But in Leeds it appeared the message was yet to get through to employees.
Two members of staff were seen strolling around the store with face masks pointlessly hanging below their chins – while two others were not wearing face masks at all.
Many customers weren’t much better at following simple instructions either.
Several people waltzed straight out of the entrance doors, ignoring the one-way system and brushing past our reporter as he tried to avoid them in the narrow doorway.
There were plenty of signs and sanitiser stations around the store, and one member of staff was diligently cleaning the freezer with antibacterial spray while wearing a visor.
But it was concerning that staff members were not following simple rules, despite tannoy announcements claiming that Morrisons are “making it safe” for customers.
A Morrisons spokesman said: “All colleagues should be wearing their masks, unless they are medically except and the store manager has reminded the colleagues of this again today. Since the start of the pandemic we have introduced and consistently maintained thorough and robust safety measures in all our stores. These include managed store entrances, sanitising stations, plastic screens, free face coverings, managed checkout queues, rigorous and regular cleaning and clear signage and instructions for customers. This week, we have further strengthened our policy on face coverings.”
In Liverpool’s Belle Vale store there was a clear “no face covering no entry” sign as you walk into the store and a security guard stood at the entrance.
Most other people entering the store at the time were wearing face coverings, but we noticed one person who walked in not wearing a mask or any covering, unchallenged.
There were plenty of sanitisers at the entrance for hands and trolleys.
In Leeds the shopping experience in Aldi was a little uncomfortable too.
The correct protocols were in place, including hand sanitiser stations as customers walk in, a traffic light system policing numbers inside the store and plastic screens at the checkouts.
The majority of staff were wearing face masks, but none of the three checkout employees were. However, they were all sat behind perspex screens.
Although Aldi’s own rules state that “employees are required to wear properly fitting face coverings”, this does not apply if they are sat behind one of the screens.
A spokesperson for the company said: “All Aldi colleagues are required to wear a mask while working unless they are behind a perspex screen or medically exempt.”
As we entered the supermarket’s store in Gateacre, Liverpool, there were plenty of sanitisers for hands, trolleys and baskets.
There was no security staff or anyone monitoring the number of people inside, but Aldi’s ‘traffic light system’ was in place.
Inside we spotted three people not wearing masks and two others who were wearing them, but then pulled them down to speak to people.
We didn’t see any staff challenging anyone who wasn’t wearing a mask during my time in store.
A tannoy message played reminding people of the rules and thanking people for wearing masks. Most people were shopping alone.
Giles Hurley, chief executive officer at Aldi UK, said this week: “Wearing a mask is mandatory for everyone that shops at Aldi, except for the small number of people who have a medical exemption.”
Aldi is also encouraging all customers to try and reduce the number of family members they bring with them into stores.
In Leeds Tesco seemed far safer, not least because all the employees were wearing face coverings.
The store had more hand sanitiser stations than any other supermarket we visited, with a big one in the main entrance and several others dotted around the store.
Regular tannoy announcements said: “It is now mandatory for you to wear a face mask unless you are medically exempt”.
When we arrived Tesco in Hanover Street, Liverpool, a traffic light system was in place and there were several “no face covering, no entry” signs posted in the entryway.
A security guard was at the door, alongside another member of staff offering hand sanitiser.
The majority of people entering the store were already wearing face masks, but we did spot one person trying to enter without one.
The security guard was quick to ask if they had a mask with them, before asking them to put it on and sanitise their hands.
Most people were shopping alone or in pairs, and shelves were well stocked.
There were also several announcements reminding shoppers it is mandatory to wear a face covering and to social distance at all times.
Shoppers who refuse to wear face masks, without a medical exemption, will not be allowed into Tesco stores.
A spokesman said: “Since the start of the pandemic, we have focused on ensuring everyone can get the food they need in a safe environment.
“To protect our customers and colleagues, we won’t let anyone into our stores who is not wearing a face covering, unless they are exempt in line with government guidance.”
In Leeds one member of staff at Asda was not wearing a face mask, although they remained behind a perspex screen.
All other employees in store were wearing face coverings, but there were significantly more customers without face masks in Asda than at any other supermarket in Leeds.
The supermarket undoubtedly had the most visible signs though, with customers unable to miss the messaging in bright green and yellow colours.
The Hunts Cross store in Liverpool also has plenty of signage as you enter, reminding customers of social distancing rules and an area where you can sanitise your hands, basket or trolley.
When we visited, a security guard and a member of staff were standing at the entrance monitoring people coming into the store.
Most people entering were wearing masks. We did notice one woman arriving not wearing any kind of face covering and the staff member handed her a free disposable mask before she entered the store, which she then put on.
Inside we only saw one other shopper not wearing a mask, everyone else was wearing a covering, correctly fitted over their nose and mouth.
There were lots of floor markers in place and shoppers were largely keeping to the correct distance.
A spokesman said : “All staff have to wear a face mask unless they are medically exempt or behind a barrier.
“Those who can’t wear a face mask for medical reasons must wear a badge to let customers know to keep a two-metre distance if they are on the shop floor.”
The supermarket added: “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.”
At the Chapel Allerton Lidl store in Leeds the one and only sign visible to customers approaching the entrance was a tiny black-and-white A4 poster stuck on one side of the automatic doors telling people to ‘shop alone’.
What’s more, there was only one small sanitisation station inside the store – and barely any other reminders that we are currently in the middle of a pandemic.
However, all the customers and staff members appeared to be acting sensibly, with everybody maintaining their distance and wearing masks.
Perspex screens provided a barrier between employees and customers, but all checkout staff wore masks anyway.
In Park Road, Liverpool, the picture was very different.
A security guard was reminding shoppers to wear a mask and to sanitise their hands upon arrival.
Just past the doorway there was a sanitising station for shoppers to sanitise their trolleys and baskets.
Inside, everybody we spotted was wearing a mask and the majority of people were shopping alone or in pairs.
A tannoy message played every couple of minutes reminding shoppers to social distance.
Wearing a face covering is mandatory at Lidl, although some customers are exempt on medical grounds.
Masks are available to pick up at the entrance of Lidl stores, to then purchase at the till when you complete your shop.
Mirror Online approached Lidl for a comment.
Compared to other supermarkets, Waitrose in Leeds had a huge army of staff stocking shelves and assisting customers.
Every single one of them was wearing either a face mask or a visor, and practically all the customers in-store were doing the same.
Perspex screens separated the self-checkout stations and the whole experience felt very safe.
There is no Waitrose in Liverpool but for a high-end option we visited M&S.
When we arrived at M&S in Church Street there was a poster reminding shoppers that face masks are mandatory in stores.
There was a member of staff in the entrance checking customer numbers and pointing out the hand sanitising station.
There didn’t seem to be any shoppers without face masks and everyone we spotted was shopping alone.
In the food hall, the shelves were fully stocked and there were floor markers in place to remind shoppers to social distance.
We did notice that there were no Tannoy messages reminding shoppers of this.
It is mandatory to wear a face covering in store, with the exception of young children or people with certain health conditions.