Maskless Coles shoppers spark debate: 'That’s why it’s spreading'

A man has lashed out on social media after supermarket staff told him they couldn't force other customers to wear face masks.

The Coles shopper took to Facebook to share his frustration over seeing two people in their 20s in the Wollongong store wearing no shoes and no masks amid the ongoing Covid crisis in NSW.

“I asked the QR check-in girl what’s up with that. I’m told they can’t enforce masks only police can, and fine them if police were there,” he wrote to a private Facebook group.

“I don’t want flack. But can’t see the 2 of them needing an exemption. Just not caring about what’s supposed to be mandatory,” he continued to assume about the two customers.

Office workers walk past a Coles supermarket in Sydney, Wednesday, April 28, 2021. Source: AAP
A Coles shopper is outraged supermarket staff can't force other customers to wear masks. Source: AAP

“That's why it's spreading,” one person responded.

Another said: “Important and necessary info.”

Customers' Covid-safe obligations at Coles stores

A Coles spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia customers are asked to put on a mask at stores in regions under government health orders.

"Where required by the government, we ask our customers ensure they are wearing a face mask before entering our stores, unless they have an exemption – and the same rules apply to our team," a Coles spokesperson said.

"We will continue monitoring customer numbers and encourage them to use the sanitising stations at the entrance to our stores.

"We also ask that customers check in each time they visit our stores by scanning the QR Codes on display at the front of the store, above the sanitiser stations within the store, or at the checkouts."

Post sparks debate about mask enforcement

The online rant swiftly sparked a debate about masks in supermarkets, with some jumping to the defence of the two maskless men.

“Could it be a harmless mistake, forgetting the mask? I forgot mine when I went into 711 the other day. Was an honest mistake,” commented one person.

“Can’t see them needing one? They may have health issues or a disability that may not be visible to the eye of other people,” another noted.

A screenshot of the Facebook post in a private group which sparked the mask exemption debate. Source: Facebook
The man lashed out on social media, sparking a heated debate about the enforement of masks during the pandemic. Source: Facebook.

To which the poster responded: “I’m not trying to tread on those that can’t wear masks for real reasons. I’m just putting it out there that Coles is not enforcing.”

Others called for stricter security at supermarkets.

“Coles, Woolworths and Aldis should have security guards at the doors, not 16 years old girls. How much money are they making during these lock downs?” questioned one Facebook user.

“Shops should be allowed to refuse people entering their stores in order to protect their staff, and valued customers,” another said.

One person suggested safety concerns as the reason why the responsibility falls back on the police and not staff.

“It’s the same in most stores regarding enforcing customers to wear masks as manageable are worried that it will lead to staff being assaulted, or abused in some cases,” they wrote.

Surgical mask on white background. Source: Getty Images
The public health order in NSW includes a number of lawful reasons for not wearing a mask. Source: Getty Images

What are the face mask exemptions?

There are a number of exemptions under the public health order where some are not required to wear a face mask.

The NSW Government states you are exempt if you have a physical or mental health illness or condition, or disability, that makes wearing a mask unsuitable.

"For example, if you have a skin condition, an intellectual disability, autism or trauma, you are not required to wear a mask.

"Please be respectful to people who are not wearing a mask as the reasons for not wearing a mask are not always visible or obvious."

If you cannot wear a face mask you must carry either a medical certificate, a statutory declaration or a letter signed by either a registered health practitioner or a registered NDIS provider.

Those who fail to wear a face mask without a lawful reason risk being slapped with a $200 fine.

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