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Walmart, Target, and other retailers impose dedicated hours to help at-risk shoppers

Walmart, Target, and other retailers impose dedicated hours to help at-risk shoppers


New hours of operation for older adults and anyone with underlying health conditions

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Supermarkets Enforce Rules To Stop ‘Panic Buying,’ And Help Elderly
Customers queuing outside a Sainsbury’s store in the UK, which opened exclusively to elderly and vulnerable shoppers in its first hour.
Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Supermarket chains across the UK, US and elsewhere have started offering dedicated shopping hours for elderly or vulnerable customers during the coronavirus pandemic, The Guardian and USA Today are reporting. Some stores are also enforcing limits on the amount of items people can buy in one go, to prevent panic-buying.

For example, Walmart says its stores will open an hour early on Tuesday from March 24th through April 28th for customers over the age of 60. Other US stores, including Target and Whole Foods have introduced similar measures. USA Today has a lengthy list of the changes different US supermarkets are introducing. In the UK, meanwhile, Sainsbury’s and Tescos have introduced dedicated shopping hours for vulnerable people, as has Woolworths in Australia.

Concerns have been raised about at-risk individuals gathering in the same place

The decisions follow a series of viral tweets, including one from celebrity chef José Andrés, which called for the dedicated shopping hours for at-risk individuals. Being able to shop early means that shelves should be more fully stocked, and stores will be at their cleanest before serving a day’s worth of shoppers.

Concerns have been raised that dedicated shopping hours for elderly and vulnerable individuals could put them at risk, however, if too many of them congregate at a single location, The Washington Post reports. One infectious disease doctor, Alysa Krain, called the measures “a good idea in general” but added that “it’s a little bit dangerous if it’s not controlled.” Stores should try and ensure a safe distance of six feet between customers, and discourage crowds of more than 50 people, Krain said. For example, in the UK Tescos says that it is introducing social distancing measures at its checkouts.

As well as dedicated opening times, some supermarkets are also placing restrictions on how many items people can buy at once, in an attempt to prevent panic-buying, The Guardian reports. Walmart says it will impose limits on product categories including milk, eggs, cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, and diapers. Meanwhile in the UK, discount supermarket Aldi has said that customers will not be able to buy more than four of the same grocery item at a time.