March 18, 2020 / 1:44 PM / 16 days ago

Belgian supermarket chain moves to protect older people from coronavirus

BRUSSELS, March 18 (Reuters) - Belgian supermarket chain Delhaize has moved to protect its customers over 65 years of age — the age group most at risk from the coronavirus epidemic — by reserving the first hour after its shops open only for elderly shoppers.

The decision has applied since Tuesday in more than 700 of the company’s shops in Belgium as well as its Stop&Shop chain in the United States.

“I came here to shop for some groceries to have enough at home so I don’t have to run around too much because I think it’s too dangerous,” Henri, a 71-year old wearing a mask over his nose and mouth, told Reuters as he was leaving the shop.

Despite the especially reserved time there were still lines of elderly shoppers waiting to enter shops on Wednesday because of a restriction that only 150 people can be in a Delhaize supermarket at any given time, to limit the risk of infection.

“We chose the first hour of operation of the shops, from 0800 to 0900, to give the elderly customers access to all produce in the store and because the premises have just been cleaned,” Delhaize spokeswoman Karima Ghozzi told Reuters.

She said that although there were temporary shortages of certain products in Delhaize shops, they did not stem from the lack of merchandise, but from insufficient staff to unload trucks and replenish shelves quickly enough.

“We have enough of everything. We are asking customers to shop for groceries normally, rather than buy dozens of items of the same product to stock up,” she said. (Additional reportin by Jeremy Audouard; Reporting by Jan Strupczewski, Editing by William Maclean)

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