In this file photo taken on July 15, 2020 a man walks near a sign informing customers that face coverings are required in front of a Walmart store in Washington, DC. US retail giant Walmart. - AFP

WASHINGTON: US retail giant Walmart on Friday said customers who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer have to wear masks in their stores, and staff can do the same starting next week. "Beginning today, vaccinated customers and members are welcome to shop without a mask, and we will continue to request that non-vaccinated customers and members wear face coverings in our stores and clubs," the company said in a statement, while adding that masks would still be required where mandated by local authorities.

Employees who are more than two weeks past their vaccination can stop wearing masks from May 18, the company said, and all employees are eligible for a $75 bonus if they prove they have got their jab. "These are positive developments. We can do this. We've been through a lot this year, and now we need to do our part to finish this," Walmart said in a statement signed by corporate leadership.

The announcement follows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's lifting on Thursday of mask-wearing guidance for people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, a decision that came over a year after it was first issued at the beginning of the pandemic that has killed more than 585,000 people in the United States.

Walmart mandated customers wear face masks starting last July, and is now among the first major American corporations to end the requirement. "We are also reviewing whether masks may still be required for certain job codes for health and sanitation purposes and will share additional guidance soon.

Some associates may choose to continue to wear masks, and as part of our value of respect for the individual we should all support their right to do so," the company said. The largest private employer in the United States, Walmart has a staff of about 1.5 million people in the country and saw soaring sales throughout 2020 despite the pandemic's business disruptions. - AFP