Supermarkets add social distancing measures as government grants exemption to shutdown

Photo credit: Dallas Kilponen

Supermarkets nationwide are stepping up measures to promote social distancing in the wake of tighter regulations to quell the spread of COVID-19 in Australia.

On Sunday evening, Prime minister Scott Morrison and state and territory leaders agreed on a shutdown of non-essential services from noon on Monday with supermarkets and convenience stores among those exempt.

Social distancing is among the recommendations from government to help prevent the spread of the virus, with the public advised to keep a 1.5 metre distance from other people.

But with panicked consumers flooding supermarkets to stock up on essential items, maintaining an adequate distance from other shoppers has often become an after thought.

Woolworths is using plexiglass screens, posters and floor markings to encourage shoppers to keep their distance and recommending that customers use ‘tap and pay’ where possible and practice thorough hand washing prior to entering a store.

“Posters placed in prominent sections of the store will provide customers and teams with helpful tips to minimise contact with others,” a Woolworths spokesperson told Inside FMCG.

Photo credit: Dallas Kilponen

“Customers are encouraged to use their trolley as a distance guide and advised to follow floor markings at checkouts.”

Woolworths has introduced plexiglass screens at its stores in Town Hall and Kellyville North, which will be rolled out across every store over the coming weeks to provide security guard coverage for staff.

“We know it’s not always easy to maintain social distancing at our checkouts, so we’ve started installing plexiglass screens as an additional safeguard for our team members and customers,” Claire Peters, managing director Woolworths Supermarkets said.

The vast majority of Woolworths stores had security at the weekend and on Saturday the retailer began implemented the social distancing measures.

At Aldi, a “series of social distancing measures” are being implemented to protect staff, employees and vulnerable shoppers.

“We are asking customers to support us in this effort and prioritise those less able or requiring special assistance to move to the front of the line,” Aldi said in a statement to Inside FMCG.

Speaking on the Today Show on Monday, Coles chief operating officer Matt Swindells said the supermarket giant would “consider all options” when asked whether a 50 person store limit was on the cards.

“I think we need to consider all options that keep the team safe and give the public confidence that they can continue to shop,” he said.

“The crisis is evolving and we’re working closely with Department of Health. We will do what it takes.”

State borders tighten but food suppliers won’t be impacted

Morrison also recommended against all non-essential domestic travel, but supermarkets will be relived to hear that exemptions have been made for freight and food supply among other essential services.

South Australia intends to close its borders, with a mandatory 14-day quarantine period to be enforced immediately and border checks to begin from Tuesday.

Tasmania and the Northern Territory are also imposing a two-week quarantine period on people seeking to enter these states, with police checkpoints posted to monitor travellers, while Victoria’s borders will remain open for now.

Aldi said the coordinated support by federal, state, territories and local government to food retailers has been “exceptional”.

“The clear commitment to ensure restrictive measures, including movement across borders and shutdowns of non-essential services, do not limit the ability of Australia’s food producers, manufacturers and grocery retailers to maintain continuity of supply to Australian consumers,” Aldi said in a statement.

“There is more than enough food for everyone, we simply ask for patience and courtesy from our customers as we work hard to keep up with the spike in demand.”

Last week, Aldi, Coles, Woolworths and IGA banned together to call for better treatment of staff amid escalating panic buying.

The statement asked Australians to treat their dedicated employees with courtesy and respect. 

“No-one working or shopping in any of our stores should experience abusive or aggressive behaviour,” the ad read.

Inside FMCG contacted Coles for comment on social distancing measures and tighter state border controls.

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