Supermarkets are tightening up their rules (Image: AFP via Getty Images)

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Police will act as “backup” to enforce “serious” breaches of Covid rules in supermarkets, the Tory minister in charge has declared.

Kit Malthouse spoke out after reports that officers were unwilling to enforce mask rules inside supermarkets due to a lack of resources.

One senior police leader told the Guardian “we won’t be doing that”, adding: “Do people really want the police telling you: ‘that’s not above your nose’? There are no extra officers."

But Policing Minister Mr Malthouse said police should intervene in the most serious cases – as wearing a mask in a supermarket is a legal requirement for shoppers and staff. Young children and those with certain conditions are exempt.

He told BBC Breakfast: “What we hope is that in the vast majority of cases, the enforcement or the reminders put in place by the store owners will be enough.

Kit Malthouse spoke out after reports that officers were unwilling to enforce mask rules inside supermarkets
(Image: Maureen McLean/REX/Shutterstock)

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“A lot have traffic light systems, somebody at the door reminding people to wear their mask – very important, particularly in an indoor setting, that that happens.

“And I know a lot of the supermarkets are now stepping up to re-affirm their commitment to that.

“But about 700-odd fixed penalty notices have been handed out in those kinds of environments, retail and on transport, particularly by the British Transport Police.

“And the police are there if you like for backup if things get seriously wrong.

“But hopefully the vast majority of people will comply.”

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick said officers in London had issued more than 300 notices in the space of 24 hours for "flagrant" violations of the regulations.

Cressida Dick said officers in London had issued more than 300 notices in the space of 24 hours
(Image: PA)

She said her officers would also be prepared to assist supermarket staff if customers became "obstructive and aggressive" when they were told they must wear a face covering.

Her warning came as Morrisons said customers who refused to wear a mask without a medical exemption will be told to leave its stores, while Sainsbury's said its security staff would "challenge" shoppers who were not wearing masks or entering stores in groups.

Dame Cressida said while the "vast majority" of the public were complying with the rules, her force had had to break up protests and house parties held in clear violation of the regulations.

Mr Malthouse said officers would be adopting a new "high-profile" approach to enforcing the rules.

He said that it could include stopping people to ask what they were doing outside their homes – in what he described as a "significant change" in the British policing model.

"It's certainly the case that the police are going to be very high profile," he told Times Radio.

"It's certainly part of police's job to stop people and enquire as to the reasons why they're outside their house.

"It is a very significant change and it's a challenge for British policing that relies on a model of consent."