Food retailers step up to protect staff and customers from Covid-19

epa08334213 A woman blows her nose into a tissue as she departs a shopping center during fifth day of a 21-day national lockdown in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa, 31 March 2020. Health workers and police had a difficult task of educating and enforcing social distancing in Khayelitsha. The South African government is enforcing a 21 day total lockdown to try stem the spread of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 which causes the Covid-19 disease. EPA-EFE/NIC BOTHMA

Since the start of the lockdown on 26 March 2020, retailers in food distribution have taken measures to ensure their stores and employees adhere to the conditions put in place by government.

It has officially been 14 days since President Cyril Ramaphosa imposed the 21-day lockdown as an attempt to mitigate the spread of the global pandemic, Covid-19. The lockdown enforced that all retail shops and shopping malls close immediately from 26 March 2020, except for those where essential goods are sold. Those working in food production and supply industries were exempt from the lockdown. 

“Individuals will not be allowed to leave their homes, except under strictly controlled circumstances such as to seek medical care, buy food, medicine and other supplies or collect a social grant,” Ramaphosa said.

This was on condition that the person in control of the said store, such as Woolworths or Pick n Pay, must put controls in place to ensure that customers keep a distance of at least 1m² from each other and that all directions in respect of hygienic conditions and the exposure of persons to Covid-19 are adhered to.

Woolworths told Daily Maverick that they are monitoring the “evolving Covid-19 situation”, but have placed precautionary measures in place to protect the wellbeing and safety of both their customers, and staff members. 

“They only let about 20 people in at a time so there is always a line outside Woolies,” shopper Thato Amos said after he went to the Woolworths in Douglasdale on 8 April 2020. “But in the line outside, the parking guards make sure you are standing a metre apart from the person behind and in front of you.” 

Amos also told Daily Maverick that once you get into Woolworths, his hands are sprayed with hand sanitiser and he is then given sanitised wipes that he can use to wipe his trolley.

“There are managers or employees of Woolworths just going about making sure people are not socialising or relaxing inside the store,” Amos said. “They are making sure that you are just doing your serious shopping.” 

Shopper Deepa Kesa went to the Woolworths at Killarney Mall in Johannesburg twice since the lockdown began, once in the first week of the lockdown and again on 8 April. Like Amos, she was shocked by the level of security that she encountered when doing her shopping.

“I described to my parents back home that it was like a war zone,” Kesa told Daily Maverick, “because there is just so much red tape everywhere, making sure you don’t go places you’re not meant to be going.” 

Kesa and Amos said that once you go to the teller to pay, the cashiers are wearing gloves and once you leave, your hands are sprayed again. 

Woolworths stated that they have provided guidance and training on personal hygiene, and prevention measures to staff members. They added that they have implemented a number of initiatives in order to ensure, as far as possible, that physical distancing is maintained. 

“We have rolled out social distancing decals on the floor of our stores to encourage our customers and our people to maintain the recommended one metre distance between people,” Woolworths told Daily Maverick

Pick n Pay has also taken extreme measures to ensure that physical distancing is maintained in their stores. TimesLive reported on 2 April 2020 that the chain had screens installed in more than 430 stores around the country. 

“We have put a number of physical distancing measures in place in our stores to help keep staff and customers safe. Perspex screens are now being rolled out at all Pick n Pay till points countrywide. The transparent screens are mounted at the till and are situated between cashiers and customers,” Pick n Pay said, according to TimesLive

Pick n Pay shopper Zandalee Gossayn told Daily Maverick that these screens did not do much for her when she went to a Pick n Pay in Ruimsig, Johannesburg, as the cashier did not sanitise the product after she paid or sanitise the card machine before she placed the card in the machine. 

“It also doesn’t help because to get to the card machine you must still go to the side of the till and that isn’t protected by the screen,” Gossayn said. “The cashiers also were not wearing masks or gloves.”

Furthermore, even though Pick n Pay introduced other measures to promote physical distancing like floor markers in aisles, service areas and queues, and all customers are required to shop with a trolley so that safe distancing can be maintained at all times, Gossayn said that they were not as strict as she thought they would be. 

 “When you walk in, it’s not like they restrict your movement,” Gossayn said. “Even the staff were talking among each other, but were not keeping a distance from one another and they also didn’t keep a distance from customers. They were not too strict in Pick n Pay.” 

Like Pick n Pay, Spar also put up perspex screens to protect staff and customers from contracting the potentially deadly coronavirus.

Thandi Gasa went to the Spar at Kenilworth in Johannesburg South, on 30 March 2020 and was very impressed by the precautionary measures that Spar had taken. 

“They sanitise your hands when you enter and when you leave,” Gasa said. “There are the screens and the cashiers have gloves, they don’t have any other protective gear though. But in the queue both outside, because they only allow 100 people in at a time, and in the queue before you pay, people don’t stand close to each other.”

Other retailers like Massmart and the Shoprite Group have also increased their efforts by putting strict measures in place to protect their customers and their staff. 

“We created a Covid-19 response team that meets every morning to discuss the status of the virus and interventions to protect staff and customers,” Refilwe Boikanyo, Massmart’s communication manager told Daily Maverick

“We continue to take proactive steps to protect our employees and customers while we provide an essential service to supply food to the nation,” Shoprite Group CEO, Pieter Engelbrecht said in a statement on 5 April 2020. DM


"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted