Are supermarkets doing enough to monitor customer numbers and stop the spread of coronavirus?
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“Rammed, chaotic, and a minefield.”
These are just a few of the words used to described shopping in Norfolk’s supermarkets - despite numerous reassurances from retailers that customer wellbeing is paramount.
It comes following official data suggesting supermarkets may be the most common place where people in England are exposed to coronavirus.
Public Health England’s weekly surveillance report claimed almost 20pc of the 34,300 cases they collect check-ins on the NHS app for had visited the shops in the seven days before they tested positive.
Of the 128,000 cases examined, this was the highest proportion of visits out of the 16 locations considered - including schools, care homes and hospitals.
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And while many supermarkets have common safety measures in place, such as social distancing markers, cleaning stations, and protective checkout screens, controlling customer numbers appear to be monitored differently.
Waitrose confirmed it was continuing to offer priority access to NHS workers, carers, the elderly, disabled and vulnerable, and had marshals to facilitate customers in and out of stores.
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But people were asked to manage the number of individuals in-store themselves by sending one member per household only.
A spokesperson for Waitrose said: “We’ve been consistent with our approach during both lockdowns to ensure maximum safety.
“We advise our customers to continue to follow the latest government guidance and encourage them to observe the measures we have put in place in-store.”
Tesco and Central England Co-op confirmed a “one-in, one-out” system was in place to limit numbers, with some stores installed with a traffic light system at entrances.
A Tesco spokesperson said it was “following all Government guidance” and had extensive social distancing measures in all stores.
While a spokesperson for Central England Co-op also confirmed it had “rolled out a range of measures” which had been “popular with customers” since the start of the pandemic.
Finally, at Sainsbury’s, a spokesperson said customers were reminded to wear face coverings, if not exempt, while its “greeters” monitored the number of customers coming in to store at its busiest times.
But while these measures have been put in place, many shoppers across the region have painted a very different picture.
Mum-of-two Gemma Dutton, of Brooke, has shopped in supermarkets a handful of times since March.
“I have to do my parents shopping as they are high risk,” she said. “But with a toddler, as well as not trusting others to social distance or shops to not let lots of people in, it’s far easier and safer to get a delivery or click and collect.
“I did go into Aldi once at 9pm thinking that would be a more pleasant experience at that time of night, but there were four people in there with no masks on. They laughed at those who were wearing masks and then harassed the shop workers at the till, so that was rather off-putting.”
Although Aldi did not provided a statement, the retailer did confirm its safety measures were listed on its website.
Lora Stimson, who lives in south Norfolk, has also visited Aldi, as well as Mossisons, and described them as “rammed” but added: “I feel safe. They’re well equipped with sanitiser and I’m very cautious, but it is still stressful.”
While Elizabeth Haynes, of north Norfolk, described “not feeling safe at all” when shopping in Sainsbury’s recently, but said although it had been “choas” on that particular day, earlier in the week had been “fine”.
Shoppers also took to the Norfolk Coronavirus Update Facebook group to air their concerns - with dozens saying they have not stepped inside a supermarket since March due to safety reasons.
Many claimed they were overcrowded, not clean, and unsafe.
David Eastwick, who is classed as “clinically vulnerable”, said he has no alternative but to go to supermarkets.
“I always feel nervous,” he said. “The city tends to be way busier than it should be, no one seems to obey social distancing, and masks are only worn on the whole in the shops.
“Being outside is not a magic bullet to stopping the spread.
“Then in the store one way routes are ignored, social distancing is not done, I seem to be the only one that uses the hand sanitiser and so many people seem exempt from face cover.
“It’s a damn stressful minefield but you’ve got to eat.”
In Norfolk rates of coronavirus have increased from 100 per 100,000 in the week to November 6, to 149 in the week to November 13. The highest rates are currently in South Norfolk (222) and Great Yarmouth (214), although cases in South Norfolk are thought to be linked to social gatherings in the lead up to lockdown at the start of November.
Following those findings, Norfolk County Council (NCC) urged people to stick to the national restrictions.
Councillor Andrew Proctor, chair of the Norfolk Engagement Board and leader of NCC, said: “Only leave home for essential reasons and if you do need to leave home, following the hands, face, space advice.”
And, despite the fears and concerns from the public, supermarkets have received backing from the British Retail Consortium for their investment into customer safety.
Helen Dickinson, its chief executive, said: “Retailers continue to follow all safety guidance to make their premises Covid-secure. They have spent hundreds of millions on safety measures including perspex screens, additional cleaning, and social distancing, to keep customers and colleagues safe.”
Asda, Morrisons and Lidl were also approached for a comment but did not respond.