Christmas shopping, crowds and Covid - how to shop safely as retail outlets reopen their doors

Eilish O’Regan

The Christmas countdown begins tomorrow as shops reopen – but now that the safety blanket of lockdown is gone, how can people mind themselves and others from Covid-19?

Public health specialist Dr Emer Shelley said the hope is that everyone “will not descend at once” when shops open their doors. Good advice is to make the most of the generous stretch yet before the festivities with some careful pacing and planning.

“People should take advantage of the longer opening hours,” said Dr Shelley, who is dean of public health in the Royal College of Physicians.

This is of particular assistance for people who are working 9-5, she said, so they are not confined to busier shopping times over weekends.

One of the new features on the streets of towns and cities from this week will be the wearing of masks following the advice to keep them on in crowded places.

This is not mandatory, but now that mask wearing is more common in public places, it is expected that most people will take heed of the guidance.

Dr Shelley said shops will continue to be obliged to limit the number of customers inside at one time, but “if there is a situation where people find themselves in an uncomfortable crowded situation, they should retreat if they can”.

She said from observation it appears that in supermarkets people have already started to stock up on some Christmas foods, which will also ease pressure and allow for safer shopping.

Thinking through in advance “could also avoid some of the excess” that is so much a feature of Christmas, she said. It might be a time to go for “quality rather than quantity”.

Keep the two-metre distance from other shoppers where possible.

So far, since the start of the pandemic there have been just 25 clusters of Covid-19 associated with retail outlets, which is significant given that so many supermarkets and other essential shops have not closed even during the worst of the pandemic.

Shopping centres may have to be content with giant cardboard cut outs or video messages from Santa this year because his usual grotto would not allow for physical distancing.

People need to remember the virus is not taking any holiday and it just wants to find new victims to infect.

The Government advice is to shop local and everyone needs to bear this in mind after the difficult year well-loved stores have had. This can extend to traditional shopping, ordering online or over the phone, then collecting the goods or having them delivered.

One good piece of advice is to wrap up warm in case you have to queue outside.

There is still a significant amount of virus around and a disappointing 299 new cases of Covid-19 were diagnosed yesterday.

Sanitising hands is crucial because people could be going to several stores in shopping centres, using frequently touched surfaces like entering their bank pin numbers at the cashier.

And there is a timely reminder from the Mandate trade union to remember pandemic heroes: “If we are genuine about our appreciation for the ‘essential work’ of retail staff, then we must all play our part over the coming weeks and months. “Respect retail workers, and remember that respect is not just for Christmas.”

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