AK: Malls say monitoring mask compliance will be a challenge

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A sign asking customers to please wear a mask in Tallinn's Viru Keskus shopping center. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Shopping malls are battling with the requirement to ensure mask-wearing more than any of the other new or beefed-up requirements rolled out in the government's latest coronavirus restrictions round, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Thursday night.

The requirement was already in place, but often not observed; with its new restrictions, the government has put more pressure on stores to ensure it is complied with, with the threat of closure hanging over malls and stores as a whole should it not be.

Malls say that finding enough security personnel – who will be tasked with checking shoppers are wearing masks starting next Monday when the new restrictions come into force – is the hardest task both in terms of personnel and costs.

Masks will be provided in malls

Those who are not wearing a face covering inside a shopping mall will be directed to customer information where they can pick up a temporary mask, or the security guard may dole it out themselves, AK reported.

Kristjan Maaroos, head of the Rocca al Mare mall, west of the city center, said the face-mask requirement was: "The most expensive and complicated aspect, because it requires hiring additional security staff, considering how many different entrances we have in the center. That figure is quite large."

Tiia Nõmm, of the Ülemiste mall, echoed the comments, though said that the public could monitor the center's entrances and exits online in real time before deciding whether to visit.

Security guards lack legal basis for issuing fines for non-compliance

Nõmm said: "Those who want to see how many people there are can go to our website and see if it is a safe time for him to visit."

Another issue Nõmm identified, one which has been discussed before, is the legal basis on which security guards have to enforce the requirement, for instance by a fine. In short, they do not have one; in fact even the police do not have the right to issue a fine in this case, legal experts have said.

Minister of Public Administration Jaak Aab (Center) told AK the government will not impose additional restrictions on merchants, but businesses themselves have the responsibility to ensure that the occupancy of the centers remains within the established limits

Minister: Responsibility lies with mall and store owners

Aab said: "Stores must see for themselves whether the occupancy or capacity limit has been filled."

Other measures shopping malls will take include turning of free in-mall wifi, in an effort to discourage loitering, and to remove benches and other seating.

Kristi Maaroos told AK that another full closure of malls as per last spring could damage the sector further.

"We fear that if there were a new [mall] closure now, there would be significantly more people who could no longer run their businesses than in the spring of last year," Maaroos told AK.

During the government's emergency situation of mid-March to mid-May last year, malls we closed, though essential services – primarily bank offices, mobile phone stores and pharmacies – were permitted to continue work, while staff were permitted to access closed stores where this was essential, such as in caring for livestock in pet stores.

One mall-based sports retail chain faced widespread criticism for installing a sales promotion in the days leading up to the lock-down, which prompted large numbers of shoppers to congregate in close proximity inside the stores.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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