Some supermarkets and banks have decided to make special arrangements for elderly and vulnerable customers to gain exclusive early access to food and services, immediately after stores have been deep-cleaned and to avoid panic shopping, as part of the effort to keep the UK functioning smoothly during the coronavirus crisis.
Iceland is arranging for stores to keep the first two hours of Wednesday morning free for the elderly and vulnerable only. It said: “We are encouraging our store managers to dedicate the first two hours of opening on Wednesday morning to the elderly (those of state pension age) and vulnerable people in their community, such as those with disabilities.
“We commend the action taken by our colleagues in the West Belfast store, who have already dedicated an hour of early-morning opening for the elderly. We are focused on being able to feed the nation and to support those most in need.”
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Elsewhere in Europe, major supermarket groups have already moved to dedicated shopping hours for older and more vulnerable customers. In Ireland, which has witnessed panic buying on a scale similar to the UK, Lidl said it would introduce prioritised queuing and assistance from 9am to 11am each day for older customers.
Lidl Ireland said: “Starting March 17, from 9-11am, we will be implementing priority shopping hours for the elderly across all 163 Lidl stores in Ireland. This will include prioritised queuing and additional assistance for our older customers. We ask that the public respect this time period to allow more vulnerable customers to pick up the food and supplies they need.”
Banks are also examining ways to help and protect older customers. Nationwide building society said it would open an hour early – at 8am instead of the usual 9am – at 100 branches across the UK for customers over the age of 70 and those with underlying health conditions.
It said: “The arrangement will enable groups of people at highest risk from coronavirus to go about their day-to-day transactions with greater confidence and safety during the pandemic.
“They will be able to use the facilities first, benefiting from enhanced cleaning that branches will undergo each evening, and before they open to the wider membership from their usual opening times.”
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If the trial is successful, Nationwide said it would consider extending it to other branches in its 650 chain.
Mandy Beech, Nationwide’s branch network director, said: “We understand the current situation is likely to hit the elderly and vulnerable the hardest, not only because of the higher risk of catching coronavirus, but also through potentially feeling isolated from the wider world should this issue continue for a longer period.
“We also know that many older people rely on public transport. As such, we would ask local authorities and government to consider whether they could temporarily enable use of free bus passes for older people before 9.30am, in addition to relaxing parking rules in local high streets at the start of the day.”
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