There have been calls for Australian supermarkets to follow a drastic measure taken by foreign stores in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Lidl supermarket in Ireland has been praised for its innovation approach to protect workers after it uploaded a photo to Facebook of a perspex box installed around the cashier.
“We’re rolling out more protective measures to protect our store teams against COVID-19 with the introduction of our till shields that will be installed in the coming days,” the supermarket wrote.
People applauded the supermarket for its thoughtful approach to protecting staff.
“Great work Lidl, looking after the staff,” one said.
“Great to see retail staff being protected, they are on the front line too,” another claimed.
Others dubbed supermarket staff who have been run off their feet amid coronavirus panic buying as “heroes”.
“Your staff and all staff in retail are also heroes,” one wrote.
“They also put themselves in the frontline.”
Australians even called for the initiative to be implemented in Australia to protect our own workers at Woolworths and Coles, who often handle money and packaging that could carry germs.
“Coles, you should do this too,” one wrote to the supermarket giant on Facebook.
University of South Australia public health expert Professor Marion Eckert told Yahoo News Australia, however, that this wasn’t a step that Australian supermarkets needed to take just yet.
“I think that may be something we do see down the track but I don’t know if that is warranted at this stage,” she said.
“I think in terms of really what will be important in terms of future action – If the curve doesn’t flatten then further action may be quite drastic like that.”
Supermarket workers at heightened risk
People have questioned Aussie supermarkets about how their workers are being protected amid the coronavirus outbreak.
One woman wrote on the Woolworths Facebook page that cashiers were at greater risk of coming into contact with affected people.
“I have seen these people are serving at least 30 to 50 people in an hour without face-covering masks,” she said.
“I have seen people with different kinds of illnesses coming to shop and knowingly or unknowingly spreading the viruses.
“We would like to remind Woolworths management that it's time to allow your staff to wear protective masks. It is necessary to allow them to take precautions under these circumstances.”
Supermarket workers at heightened risk of contracting virus
While they may not be nurses and doctors working on the frontline to treat the virus, supermarket workers are at a heightened risk of contracting the virus due to the number of customers rushing to grocery stores.
“I think that people working in supermarkets are handling food that has been handled by customers coming through the checkouts. They have this constant contact,” Professor Eckert said.
“We know that coronavirus can transmit through surfaces and that is something they need to be wary of in terms of hand hygiene and making sure they keep them as clean as possible.”
Professor Eckert said with Australians advised to practice social distancing, keeping 1.5 metres from people at all times, it was challenging in supermarkets with hordes of people queuing with trolleys.
‘People need to be more vigilant’
She said germs could easily be transmitted hand to hand in supermarkets, whether that be from bank cards, food wrapping or money.
“People need to be more vigilant than they would be in the past,” she said.
“For people in the industry, be alert but not alarmed and really consider the hand hygiene and ensure you can access sanitising gels.
“Wash your hands where you can and do it for at least 20 seconds and dry them as well – it’s not enough to wash and leave them wet.
“If you do feel unwell or have any coughs and sneezes then take the proactive approach and stay home and stay away from work.”
Yahoo News Australia has contacted Coles and Woolworths for comment.
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