Countdown supermarkets are imposing stringent new measures to protect shoppers and staff as New Zealand goes into lockdown and panic-buying continues.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Monday that from Wednesday night New Zealand would go into an at-least four-week lockdown in an effort to limit the spread of coronavirus COVID-19. This will see non-essential businesses closed, people told to stay home and domestic travel severely limited.
Almost as soon as Ardern finished speaking, supermarkets, liquor stores and even coffee shops across the country had lines of people queuing up outside of them. Food stores were the worst hit, despite being considered an essential service that will continue operating. The managers of supermarkets have called for people to "shop normally", stressing they have enough supplies.
But Countdown has now announced a set of new measures it will put in place over the lockdown period to "keep our stores' teams and customers safe".
Depending on the size of the store, there will now be a limit on the number of customers allowed in at any one time. This will allow for appropriate physical distancing within the store.
Every second self-service checkout and every second checkout will be closed to also provide ample room between people. Customers will also have to pack their own groceries to speed up the checkout process and limit the handling of items by staff.
To protect staff and customers from anyone sneezing or coughing, perspex screens will be set up at checkouts from Wednesday.
Finally, wherever possible, customers are asked to use contactless transactions to cut down on the handling of bank cards.
"These new measures are in addition to the other changes many customers will have seen in place already, including new markings at the checkouts, which provide a physical distancing guide," said Kiri Hannifan, general manager of health and safety.
"We understand that for some people, these changes will be unsettling but we want to do all we can to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. We’re determined to keep providing New Zealanders with access to our stores, while also making sure we’re providing our team and customers a safe and healthy environment to shop in."
Foodstuffs, which owns New World, Pak'nSave and Four Square, has introduced similar measures, including reduced store hours, organising perspex screens, having staff wear masks, and encouraging contactless payment.
There will be an increased police presence in the community during the lockdown period, and officers will step in if panic-buying goes too far or people begin congregating in large groups outside supermarkets.
There are currently 155 confirmed and probable cases of coronavirus COVID-19 in New Zealand. Worldwide, nearly 400,000 people have the illness, with more than 17,000 people having died.
What we know about coronavirus
The World Health Organization (WHO) was first notified of cases of the virus SARS-CoV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2) in Wuhan, China on December 31. It was identified as a coronavirus on January 7 and can spread via human-to-human transmission. It causes the coronavirus COVID-19 illness.
The virus is primarily spread through droplets in the air after someone sneezes or coughs, however, it can also be contracted by touching surfaces where the illness is present. The length of time the virus stays alive on surfaces isn't fully understood, but some viruses can remain active for days.
"Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death," the WHO says.
"Standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs. Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing."
There is currently no vaccine for the sickness.
How can I protect myself?
avoid touching the mouth, nose and eyes with unwashed hands
washing your hands before eating
carrying a hand sanitiser at all times
being particularly mindful of touching your face after using public transport or going to the airport
carry tissues at all times to cover the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing (then dispose of it)
not eating shared or communal food
avoiding shaking hands, kissing cheeks
regularly cleaning and sanitise commonly used surfaces and items, such as phones and keys
avoiding close contact with people suffering from or showing symptoms of acute respiratory infection
seeking medical attention if you feel unwell.
An explainer on protecting yourself from coronavirus can be found here. Full information can also be found at Covid19.govt.nz
The Ministry of Health is reminding the public to get in touch with Healthline on 0800 358 5453 if they have symptoms or concerns.