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Finland's major grocery stores not requiring consumers to use masks in stores

The biggest food retailers say they will continue to rely on hand sanitiser, safety shields and distancing.

Ihmisen kasvoilla on nenän ja suun peittävä sinertävä hengityssuojain
Image: Retu Liikanen / Yle

Finland’s major food retailers say they are unlikely to recommend that consumers use face masks in their stores, according to an Yle call round to duopolists Kesko Group and S-Group as well as German chain Lidl.

On Thursday, the government said that it backed a recommendation by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, THL, to use masks on public transport and in public places where distancing is not possible. The recommendation did not mention supermarkets.

However members of the public have wondered whether or not masks should be used when people go grocery shopping, particularly when queuing at the cashier, for example.

According to the Finnish Commerce Federation, masks are not required in supermarkets, since safety measures adopted during the spring have proven to be effective. Stores have kept Covid-19 at bay by enforcing safety distances, facilitating hand hygiene and by installing protective plexiglass shields at checkout stations, it noted.

"The store environment is such that we can maintain the one- to two-metre safety distance. The situations where safety distances are not maintained are very brief and the 15-minute exposure threshold does not occur," Kesko’s Citymarket chain director Ari Sääksmäki said.

Prepping for a possible resurgence

The commercial sector said that it is closely monitoring the epidemic situation. In the event that the number of coronavirus infections begins to rise again, S-Group said that it plans to increase announcements reminding customers to observe the safety distance and to practice hand hygiene.

Mikko Koskinen, head of S-Group’s SOK food cooperative, said that during the spring consumers’ behaviour with respect to distancing was commendable. However people became more relaxed during the summer, he noted.

"For example hand sanitiser consumption [inside stores] fell during the summer. Because of that we are now using signs and announcements to remind people about it," he added.

For its part, minority market share holder Lidl said that it will focus on providing more hand sanitiser for customers. It said it is also reminding consumers that they should only go out shopping when they are healthy and they should avoid peak periods when stores are crowded.

All three chains stressed that consumers may use masks while shopping if they wish to do so.

You can listen to our All Points North podcast on the mask recommendation via the embedded player here, Yle Areena, Spotify, Apple Podcasts or your usual podcast player using the RSS feed. Be sure to subscribe to the show wherever you get your podcasts and sign up for the APN newsletter.

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Audio: Yle News

Mask use slowly spreading

The use of masks in public has slowly become more commonplace, especially in the areas with the highest number of infections, such as Uusimaa in southern Finland.

This was visible during an Yle visit to Kesko’s Citymarket store in the Jumbo shopping centre in Vantaa. Local Meeri Kiukas told Yle that she wears a fabric mask to help ward off infection.

"I’m not wasting my money running to the doctor. I’d prefer to wear this. I wash [my hands] and wear it," she said.

Many passersby said that they wear masks especially in crowded public places. Helsinki resident Esko Vilkuna said there should be incentives to encourage people to use masks.

"The government is earning VAT with these masks, 24 percent. The tax should be removed," he suggested.

Both Kesko and S-Group said that as far as they know, no infections were traced back to supermarkets during the first wave of the epidemic.

They said there were isolated cases of infections among staff that did not originate at the workplace.

"If we consider K supermarkets, we have about 40 million customer contacts every month. With that scale we have [still] been able to ensure safe business," Sääksmäki noted.

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