Australian supermarket chain Woolworths has introduced dedicated shopping hours for senior citizens and disabled folks. The rest of the world should follow suit.
As the coronavirus epidemic escalates across the United States, it has become apparent that senior citizens are especially at risk. This is largely because their immune systems are more compromised than others'. For this same reason, children and those who are immunocompromised also have higher chances of contracting the deadly illness. In order to help the former group cope during this challenging public health crisis, some supermarkets are now offering "elderly hours," wherein only senior citizens will be allowed to shop. This is a critical way to make sure those who are most at risk do not catch the virus, CNN reports.
The practice was reportedly first instituted by Australian supermarket chain Woolworths. The chain, the largest in Australia with 995 stores across the country, is opening all of its branches an hour early in order to allow elderly and disabled customers to get their shopping done at ease. The special hours are set to begin on Tuesday and will run until Friday. In order to avail these special hours, customers are required to present a government-issued pensioners card or senior card when they enter a Woolworths store. The company affirmed in a statement published on their website, "To help support the shopping needs of the elderly and people with a disability in our community, we have introduced this temporary measure to help them obtain the essential items they need most in a less crowded environment. We appreciate your understanding in helping us serve everyone in the community, and ask that you don’t schedule your shop during this time if you’re not elderly or a person with a disability."
We’re launching a dedicated shopping hour in our stores to help support the needs of the elderly & people with disability in the community. From tomorrow until at least friday, we’ll be opening exclusively for them to shop from 7-8am, where permitted.— Woolworths (@woolworths) March 15, 2020
Our delivery service remains available in most parts of the country. It's been temporarily paused in parts of VIC. We continue to service a wide range of metropolitan areas in Melbourne from our West Footscray CFC. We'll turn deliveries back on from other VIC stores ASAP.— Woolworths (@woolworths) March 16, 2020
The move, the website notes, was prompted by "the unprecedented demand in supermarkets over the past week, which has seen many elderly and vulnerable people in the community missing out on vital items they may need when they shop." "While we’ll continue to do our very best to restock our stores during this period of unprecedented demand, we know many of our elderly customers have been missing out on essential items when they shop," explained Woolworths Supermarkets Managing Director Claire Peters. "This temporary measure will give them, and those with a disability, the opportunity to shop before our stores officially open. We continue to encourage all Australians to be mindful of those in our communities who might need extra help at this time. Now - more than ever - we need to be kind to each other, especially to those most vulnerable."
Now, several other supermarkets and grocery stores are following suit. Coles, another supermarket chain based in Australia, will also start holding early morning "community hours" beginning Wednesday. In addition to this, a shopping center in West Belfast, Northern Ireland, announced that its Ireland Foods grocery store would similarly begin special hours for senior citizens and disabled customers. Through these newly-introduced shopping hours, not only will a community help control the spread of coronavirus, but will make shopping easier for those who need more time or extra resources to shop. Some grocery stores have also started offering delivery services, free of cost.
The epidemic has prompted a rush of panic buying. Citizens have thus taken to hoarding and stockpiling, and supermarkets are trying to keep up with excess demand. This has also led to rather violent circumstances in certain supermarkets. Several reports of fights for product have been registered in the recent past. However, White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere explained in a statement that hoarding is unnecessary and only causes more social disruption. He stated, "Supply chains in the United States are strong, and it is unnecessary for the American public to hoard daily essentials." Hopefully, these special hours will help ease the shopping experience for those most at risk.