Coronavirus care: Stores open early for older shoppers

People wait outside an Iceland store in the Kennedy Centre opening one hour early to allow elderly shoppers to buy food as the number of coronavirus cases grow around the world, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Britain, March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Jason Cairnduff

A Northern Irish supermarket opened one hour early on Tuesday to allow older customers to shop safely and avoid coronavirus-related panic buying, sparking similar moves south of the border in Ireland.

The west Belfast store of the Iceland chain of supermarkets will continue to open at 8am each day, reserving the first hour for elderly customers, after worried shoppers began rushing to grocery stores last week jostling to buy essentials that have flown off shelves.

Older shoppers, some with family members to help and one carrying a walking stick, queued up next to each other at the Kennedy shopping centre before the shutters came up.

“I thought it was a great thing that they did this morning, it saved the rush and was nice and relaxed,” said local resident Mary Heaney after buying some groceries.

James McDonnell, who only had to pick up a few items, said he hoped other shops would do the same.

“There were too many pictures of older folk stalking aisles empty, because everybody was in panic buying. This is a great idea,” he said.

Across the border in Ireland, where unlike Northern Ireland, schools, universities and pubs have been shut, discount chain Lidl began implementing priority shopping for the elderly from 9am to 11am every day until further notice across all of its 163 stores.

Promising priority queuing and additional assistance, Lidl asked other customers to respect the measure and plan their shopping trips accordingly as it may not be able to actively monitor compliance.

Tesco, one of Ireland’s three largest supermarket chains, will also introduce dedicated time in store three days a week for over 65s and family carer workers from Wednesday.

“Because now more than ever, every little helps,” the British retalier said on its Irish Twitter page, tweaking its famous slogan to fit the times.