Warning for shoppers as COVID-19 spreads in supermarkets

Shoppers in New South Wales are being warned to limit their outings as more supermarkets are being visited by confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said while the two main places where the virus continued to spread were “workplaces and also in households”, retail stores were emerging as a growing source of transmission.

“We’re finding that when people are going to buy their groceries or going to the pharmacist or other critical retail or other critical workplaces that, unfortunately, the disease is spreading,” she said.

“We’re also noticing now workers and patrons are picking up the disease and taking it home to their families.”

NSW Health last night was forced to quash social media reports that supermarkets were going to close for four days next week.

“NSW Health can confirm this is not the case, and reminds people to only use trusted and credible sources for information on COVID-19,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

The list of supermarkets associated with confirmed COVID cases is continuing to grow, with Woolworths at Belrose in Sydney’s north-east flagged by health officials.

NSW Health said confirmed COVID cases were there for up to 65 hours over eight days between July 10-21.

Anyone who visited at particular times is considered a close contact and must get tested and isolate for 14 days regardless of their result.

a shopper wearing a face mask leaving a woolworths shop
Woolworths says vulnerable customers such as the elderly are being prioritised for online shopping.(AAP: James Gourley )

Supermarkets like Coles and Woolworths have seen an influx in online orders since the NSW government put the state into lockdown more than three weeks ago.

Some consumers have reported delays, but the supermarket chains insist they’re working hard to meet an influx in demand.

“Vulnerable customers” including the elderly, disabled and people in isolation were being prioritised, according to a Woolworths spokesman.

“Both delivery and pick-up windows remain available to the broader community, but may not be available on the usual same or next-day basis due to the higher than usual demand,” the spokesman said.

Additional drivers and shoppers have been put on to help pack and deliver groceries, a Coles spokesman said.

“We’ve learnt a lot through previous lockdowns and have moved quickly to increase Coles Online capacity.”

Read more about the spread of COVID-19 in Australia:

But Retail and Fast Food Workers Union secretary Josh Cullinan said members in Sydney were concerned the government’s “weak lockdown” had not done enough to protect them.

“Yet again in Sydney right now the government is failing to implement a real lockdown which protects their health and their safety,” Mr Cullinan said.

He said workers wanted paid pandemic leave and a genuine lockdown where customers were only able to shop for essential items in person, and workers were not asked to work across multiple sites.

“We’ve still got members who are still required to sell to customers at the front door, not click and collect but actually putting stools out so they can try on shoes or go and browse with them,” Mr Cullinan said.

He also said there was more PPE available now than at the start of the pandemic, “but we get many reports, particularly from cleaning staff at Coles and Woolies and others, that they haven’t been properly trained in dealing with COVID and they haven’t been given any specific PPE”.

Josh Cullinan sits in front of a bookshelf.
Union boss Josh Cullinan says retail workers want a “real lockdown” to ensure their safety.(ABC News )

Both Coles and Woolworths said they took the safety of their cleaning staff and contractors seriously.

Coles said its cleaning processes complied with state and federal guidelines, while Woolworths encouraged the union to provide specific details to back up its claims.

Medical practices and pharmacists make up the bulk of Sydney’s close contact venues of concern, with at least 24 sites currently listed. 

To complicate matters, GP clinics are where COVID-19 Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines are being administered. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said 118 pharmacies are now part of the rollout too.

Mr Morrison said 470 pharmacists would offer the jab by the end of the month, to increase the country’s vaccination capabilities.

In Sydney’s Fairfield, Liverpool and Canterbury-Bankstown local government areas, 48 pharmacies are being brought online to deliver AstraZeneca vaccines from next week.

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