Woolworths this morning announced special opening hours for older Australians.
From Tuesday until at least Friday between 7am and 8am, older and disabled people with a relevant concession card can shop exclusively at Woolworths stores. The aim is to help vulnerable Australians who have been unable to buy essential items such as toilet paper and tissues.
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
“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,” said 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 – helping them obtain the essential items they need most in a less crowded environment.
“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.
“We’d like to thank our customers for their patience and apologise for any inconvenience caused by the revised opening hours.
“Woolworths Supermarkets will open to all customers from 8am. Access to the store prior to this time will require a relevant government-issued concession card.”
There have been calls for other supermarkets to follow Woolworths’ lead, with The Sunday Project host Lisa Wilkinson highlighting the plight of the vulnerable and fragile in our community.
“They will be feeling very scared right now and we need to put plans in place to ensure they are not left behind,” she said.
“Supermarket bosses, can I suggest you think about leaving that first hour of trade each day for the elderly and those with disabilities or those who can prove that they are shopping for them.
“No huge crowds, everything restocked and freshly cleaned – that is a no-brainer.”
Recent panic buying and hoarding of essential goods has also led to supermarkets changing policies.
Woolworths has halted its click and collect and its delivery services, while Coles has introduced a new two-pack-per-person limit on customers stockpiling mince.
Woolworths is concerned its pick-up service is facilitating panic buying by shoppers, also its ‘delivery now’ service which aims to deliver groceries within two hours.
Supermarkets are urging shoppers to “shop as they normally would” but to pick up a couple of extra items each time they shop, rather than stockpiling and depleting shelves. “There will be enough products for everyone,” said a Coles spokesperson, while a Woolworths spokeswoman said consumers should “only purchase what they need”.
Regardless, many frustrated shoppers are still unable to buy many essential items such as toilet paper, tissues, rice, pasta and hand sanitiser.
Australia’s chief medical officer, Brendan Murphy, told Insiders: “For most people, we don’t want to encourage panic buying at the moment”.
“I think it is probably sensible to have a few days of supplies,” he said.
Yet shelves continue to be emptied, making it especially difficult to buy tinned food, laundry detergent and powder, sanitary items and meat.
This may cause inconvenience for shoppers, and supermarket staff are bearing the brunt of shopper frustrations.
“Our team members are doing the very best they can during these challenging times and we ask our customers to remain respectful in our stores,” said a Woolworths spokesperson.
“The safety of our team members is our top priority and we do not tolerate aggressive or abusive behaviour towards them in any circumstance.”
The next few months will be challenging for many, and it is hoped that Australians are up to the test.
“The true test of a society and who we are as a people is how we respond in a crisis,” said Ms Wilkinson.
Time to see what we’re made of.
Have you experienced supermarket mayhem? Are you prepared for a potential lockdown? What is a standout event/experience you have encountered during this crisis?
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