The Corona virus/COVID 19 pandemic has swept through the world and affected our lives with a ferocity and penetration none of us could have imagined even a week ago. It has impacted absolutely every aspect of Irish society. We have now moved from the containment to the delay phase. Most retail outlets have closed with only Doctors surgeries, Pharmacies and supermarkets consistently still open. These are core service providers which must remain open to sustain our communities in the times ahead.
I have real concerns about the potential for supermarkets being a potential source of transmission of infection. My own observations from my admittedly limited interaction with the supermarket sector in recent weeks have raised red flags and areas where revised, more stringent procedures could make a real difference in combatting the spread of COVID 19.
There are different policies throughout the different players in the market. Some have instigated a number of positive policies but real issues remain. I have not seen any clear controls implemented on limiting the number of people allowed in store at a particular time or any way for shoppers to wash hands on the way in and out of the store. Some supermarkets have provided sanitizer and sterilising wipes for shoppers but use of same is totally voluntary with a lot of shoppers not availing of this option. Likewise some supermarkets are calling on shoppers not to bring children but again this is a voluntary call with a real social impact. Bakery products are left exposed while I have seen staff wearing gloves and not changing them in circumstances when they really should (eg after sneezing) among other issues.
It is important to note that there is no evidence at present that COVID 19 is passed on through food. The risk of infection is through person to person contact by way of aerosol or droplet spread. Droplets are the real risk in supermarkets where someone sneezes and droplets land on surfaces close to them. In this setting it might be trolley handles, shopping baskets, tongs for bread, packaging, shelving etc. The virus can survive on surfaces for up to 72 hours.
Supermarkets must remain open and take every opportunity to minimise COVID 19 transmission. This is to protect the wider public who use the shop but also the staff who have interaction with a large number of shoppers daily. These must be protected as citizens but they also play an absolutely vital role in keeping our supermarkets open. If your local supermarket had to close due to staff having to self-isolate it would have a devastating effect on the wider community.
There should be better guidance with a core set of best practice to be adopted across the sector. As citizens we can raise the issues while in our supermarkets and shop in those who embrace best practice in this area.
The links below provide a range of excellent information on the issue