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Waitrose limits shopper numbers as physical-distancing measure | Business

Waitrose is to begin limiting the number of shoppers in its stores at any one time as part of efforts to ensure physical distancing is adhered to during the coronavirus outbreak.

The supermarket chain said limits would be specific to each store and it was introducing marshals to manage queues outside shops.

Waitrose said it would also be taking further measures to protect staff, including closing checkouts where two assistants sit back to back. It has also ordered protective screens and visors for staff but it is not clear how long these will take to arrive.

Stores will have a marked area outside each store, where customers will be instructed to queue two metres apart.

Bérangère Michel, the executive director for customer service at Waitrose’s parent group, the John Lewis Partnership, said: “While these measures will dramatically change how people shop and interact with others in our stores for the moment – they are absolutely vital to ensure that our customers can shop safely and that our partners are protected as they go above and beyond to serve shoppers in this time of crisis.”

The moves comes as all the major supermarkets are expected to step up action on physical distancing to protect staff and customers from the highly contagious virus.

Morrisons, Aldi, Iceland and Sainsbury’s have said they are installing protective screens for staff and Sainsbury’s and Tesco are understood to be considering planning to limit the number of shoppers in stores.

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The Usdaw union, which represents store workers, has called on retailers to protect staff further with measures including:

  • Limiting the number of customers in store at any one time.

  • Increasing security.

  • Telling customers to shop alone if possible and only buy what they need.

  • Enforcing essential workers’ and vulnerable people’s shopping hours.

Pressure on staff has stepped up as shoppers have stockpiled goods and switched from dining out to cooking at home. The closure of all non-essential retailers is likely to add to demand in supermarkets, with little capacity to increase home deliveries in the short term.

The average spend per supermarket trip rose by 16% in the week ending 17 March. In the same period, there were an additional 15m food shopping trips – an increase of 12% – according to the market analysts Kantar, amid widespread concern about shortages of essentials.

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