A supermarket employee has been stabbed at a Woolworths store as violence continues to occur at shopping centres across the country amid coronavirus panic buying. Police said a 37-year-old man was collecting trolleys at the Victorian store when he was approached by an unknown man and stabbed to the lower body on Tuesday afternoon.
He was airlifted to a Melbourne hospital from Rosebud with stab wounds in a serious but stable condition while police continue to hunt for the assailant. The incident comes as seniors and pension card holders have tried to make the most of a dedicated shopping hour set up by a major supermarket chain for vulnerable people in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak.
People with government-issued concession cards on Tuesday flocked to Woolworths supermarkets for the dedicated shopping hour which runs nationally from 7am to 8am on weekdays, before opening to everyone else. Not everyone was happy. At Woolworths Marrickville in Sydney’s west shoppers were complaining that some stock wasn’t available.
Woolworths fresh food director Paul Harker said the initiative had proved very popular on Tuesday morning, but agreed there were still shortages of toilet paper and pasta.
“Our supply chains are working 24/7 to make sure they get product to our stores,” he said.
More broadly, Harker said there was no shortage of goods in Australia.
“It is a logistics exercise of moving the product to get it back into stores with the pace and demand we’re seeing,” he added.
The Woolworths shopping hour program will be reviewed later this week to see if it can be improved. Panic buying sparked by the spread of COVID-19 in Australia has meant supermarkets are stripped of toilet paper, pasta, rice, frozen food as well as tinned and other dried goods. The issue has caused stress and frustration amongst elderly shoppers, many of whom find it difficult to make frequent visits to supermarkets for essential goods. In many cases, particularly for toilet paper, the shelves are often bare.
The Coles shopping hour will start on Wednesday, when its stores also open at 7am for customers holding a government-issued Pensioner Concession Card, Commonwealth Seniors Health Card, Companion Card and Health Care Card.
Coles is also seeking more than 5000 casual workers to help restock its supermarkets quicker under a fast-tracked induction process and will hire more Coles Online delivery van drivers. It also plans to dedicate grocery deliveries to people who are isolated and vulnerable. This means deliveries for other customers will be temporarily suspended, as will the Click&Collect service.
“We believe all Australians deserve the right to access their share of grocery items, particularly the elderly and the vulnerable,” Coles CEO Steven Cain said.
Elsewhere, the smaller national supermarket chain IGA is considering whether to roll out a similar pensioners-and-seniors-only shopping hour across its 1300 Australian stores. The idea is being trialled at an IGA in Melbourne’s Altona, with a shopping hour between 6am to 7am, which could be extended across its network if successful. IGA Chief Executive Fred Harrison said on Monday a final decision would be made by Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Harris Farm Markets has reduced the number of registers accepting cash across its network of 26 stores across NSW. This is being done to reduce the risk of transmission between shoppers and cashiers when notes and coins are used to pay for goods, a spokeswoman told AAP.