A garden centre in Salisbury has defended its policy to ban all shoppers who refuse to wear a face mask or a visor, arguing that doing so is "for the greater good".

In-Excess brought in the strict rule, which also applies to people with medical conditions, when the third lockdown was announced on January 4.

Since then, staff have dealt with a number of complaints from customers objecting to the rule, including one following an incident last weekend.

But with no other way to challenge those who may pretend to be exempt, and to reassure staff who would otherwise be "frightened" to come into work, the firm says it has very little choice and will continue to turn away shoppers refusing to wear PPE.

The garden centre says the decision is not to punish customers but to protect other people, including their staff.

To help those who are vulnerable, the business offers home deliveries, a click and collect service and a postal service.

What does the law say?

Face coverings in shops, supermarkets, shopping centres and enclosed transport hubs have been mandatory since last July.

However, children under the age of 11 and those with disabilities or certain health conditions, such as respiratory or cognitive impairments, are exempt.

According to the Government website, those who are exempt are not required to show any written evidence or an exemption card.

Doing so is "a personal choice and is not required by law," the guidance states.

More recently, a number of businesses, including supermarket chains, have started to bring in their own strict policies to enforce mask wearing.

In-Excess is one of them.

Salisbury Journal:

'We're doing the best we can'

Carl Chambers, managing director, said: "The law is that ambiguous that you don't need anything.

"You can just walk in with your hands in your pockets and say you are exempt and not even the police can do anything about that."

To protect his employees, who he says would otherwise be too scared to work, everyone walking in, regardless of whether they have medical conditions, has to wear either a mask or a visor.

Anyone who doesn't have one is provided one free of charge by the store, he said.

"If you're not wearing a mask we can't allow you into the store because we don't know if you're carrying the virus and if someone comes in with the virus and is not wearing a mask then we've got an issue.

"Some people think they can walk on water but I'm sorry, they can't.

"It's a difficult time, we're just trying to do the best we can to protect our staff and the other people in the store."

Safety or discrimination?

On Saturday, March 6, a man with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) was refused entry to the hardware store in Harnham because he couldn't cover his mouth and nose.

His wife, who doesn't wish to be named, said her husband was wearing a green lanyard sent to him by his GP to show he is exempt from wearing face coverings.

When offered a mask by a member of staff, he explained the situation but, according to the pair, he was still turned away without being offered a visor.

The 69-year-old said: "All through lockdown my husband has been wearing his lanyard and we've never ever encountered a problem before.

"He felt victimised, he felt angry, he felt that through no fault of his own he was being singled out.

"We feel like it's a form of discrimination."

'We're not discriminating'

Mr Chambers clarified that everyone who can't wear a mask is offered a visor and has promised to look into the incident to work out what exactly happened.

"We're not discriminating," he insisted.

"We're not allowing anyone in the store without a mask or visor, that's simple.

"We have nine sites and we get 3/4 complaints a week about it.

"People need to look at the greater good.

"It's all about trying to contain the risk and at the moment the risk is too great."

Anyone refusing to wear PPE will continue to not be allowed in, Mr Chambers said.

The policy is expected to be reviewed around April 12.

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