To supermarkets and local corner shops across the UK

An open letter from Sarah Woolnough, Chief Executive of Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation

We wrote to you last year to say thank you for your work in helping everyone get access to the food they need, whether that be people shielding with severe lung conditions, or our NHS and key workers.  

As we move through this second wave of the pandemic, we have been pleased to see that many retailers have re-committed to ensuring social distancing in store. This will help keep all of us safe, including people who are vulnerable to COVID-19 but may not have any choice but to shop in person. 

We have also seen that lots of shops have said they will strengthen their requirements to wear a face mask when shopping. It is great that this includes exemptions for people who cannot wear one for medical reasons, which includes some people with a lung condition such as asthma and COPD, who can find wearing a face mask makes it very difficult for them to breathe. 

When we asked people with a lung condition whether wearing a face mask increases their difficulty to breathe, over half said they agreed or strongly agreed that it would. The vast majority of people with lung conditions can still wear one however, 10% say they definitely cannot. It is important that everyone understands people in this position are exempt.  

People with a lung condition are telling us that they are worried about being challenged in public and have reported feeling stigma around not wearing a mask. We dont want people with respiratory disease to feel anxious or unable to access basic goods and services.  

For this reason, we want to ask you to make sure that all of your customer facing staff, from people working at the checkouts to security staff at the door, fully understand the reasons why a minority of people are genuinely unable to wear a face mask. Whilst guidance in all UK nations does not require people to provide any proof of their health condition, some people may choose to demonstrate their exemption with a UK Government or Scottish Government cardAsthma UK and British Lung Foundation graphic or sunflower lanyard. 

We hope you will be able to share this information around to your staff and customers.  

Thank you again for everything that you do and your support for people with lung conditions, we really do appreciate it.  

Best wishes, 

Sarah Woolnough 

Chief Executive 

Asthma UK and British Lung Foundation