Food for thought

Self-isolation for months or limiting forays outside the home by 75%? How prepared are the over 70s and the most vulnerable for either scenario?

This request is at present reasonably relaxed compared to Italy, Spain, and soon many other countries, where citizens aren’t allowed on the streets unless to visit a pharmacy or a supermarket. In Scotland we too may face a similar scenario within the next few weeks.

If such a clampdown happens, arrangements will presumably have to be made for visits to health specialists other than GPs, many of whom are probably moving to phone or online consultations. But what about those who need physiotherapy, to visit the dentist or podiatrist where person to person contact is essential? How will this be managed to try and keep everyone as safe as possible? Then there are those morale-boosting visits such as to the hairdresser. Sure, the over 70s can cut those out, but don’t underestimate how the loss of such visits might add to the depression caused by voluntary or enforced isolation.

It’s rumoured that France is contemplating reducing outside visits to a once per week shopping trip. In the UK those people at most risk are being advised to use online shopping for food and other essentials. But how realistic is this?

Twitter is full of videos of crowds queueing, batteringram trolleys at the ready, outside supermarkets; and others showing swarms of shoppers behaving like raiding locusts, denuding shelves of toilet rolls, pasta and other items. Trolleys and elbows are mercilessly employed as shoppers fight like starving dogs over a bone. In one supermarket fighting shoppers apparently caused the store to be closed and police called. So much for social distancing which, according to modelling by Imperial College London, by only getting the whole population to reduce social contact can Covid-19 deaths be cut from hundreds to tens of thousands.

It is understandable that people are frightened, but we need to stop and think before rushing to buy. This kind of behaviour in supermarkets must heighten the risk of catching the dreaded virus. Keeping a two metre distance between us is said to be one of the ways we can help keep ourselves safe. Yet people are ignoring this in order to buy a stock of items that could keep them going for years, depriving others of them.

An Iceland supermarket branch In Belfast is apparently designating an early morning slot for the over 70s who are being advised to self-isolate. Excellent to see a supermarket responding to the need, but people have questioned whether an early morning slot when transport is busy with people travelling to work, is the best time, and that a later slot around ten or eleven might be better. An Iceland store in Glasgow will allow only elderly folk to use the store every Wednesday from 9-11am – a much better idea. Lidl Ireland are instigating shopping hours for the over 70s across all their Irish stores, saying
they’ve been listening to feedback and will be implementing priority shopping hours for the elderly across all 163 Lidl stores in Ireland, 9-11am every day, until further notice. Lidl Scotland can we have that here please.

In Cyprus, free hand sanitisation and gloves are available on the way in to stores, with numbers of customers limited to ensure plenty social distancing space. These are measures supermarkets in Scotland need to adopt without delay, for the safety of everyone and to limit the spread of the virus.

While the main supermarkets have issued a letter to the public (though perhaps only the public in Jersey) assuring them plenty food is available and there is no need to stockpile, most are taking no action on this. So fine words but no backup endeavours. Surely it’s time the large supermarkets restricted the number of each item a customer can buy to say two or three of each. That would ensure shelves stayed stocked for longer and allowed those with the least sharp elbows and empty baskets to purchase some of the items they needed.

A Lidl store, not in recent days but some time ago when an electrical problem caused empty shelves.

As for the most vulnerable, and families having to self-isolate for 14 days because one is showing symptoms of having the virus, being told to use online shopping with home delivery, perhaps those advocating this should try it. Twitter has many people posting that two or three weeks is the earliest they can get a timeslot, and suggesting some people, at the store’s encouragement, have booked timeslots for weeks ahead, denying others the opportunity.

An online whole food store yesterday had pages of out of stock items with a very limited selection of others still available. Will stocks be replenished in time for the company to keep trading, or might it have to close because it has nothing left to sell? And don’t forget, this situation can only be exacerbated come the end of December when the UK’s transition period comes to an end and we can no longer import food from the EU on such favourable terms.

If things get as bad as many are predicting then the government needs to step in to ensure an enormous expansion of home delivery services for staple foodstuffs. This would mean trying to ensure the most vulnerable isolated who needed the service most received priority. Not easy to do, but when other countries such as Spain are making citizens complete forms to hand to the police stating their reasons for being out of their homes, then surely this isn’t beyond what can be achieved. No point in isolating large numbers of people if they slowly starve.

Yes, relatives and friends will hopefully help, but many older people don’t have relatives who live nearby, or even in the country, and friends are usually in the same age group. So if governments are serious about keeping older people and the vulnerable as safe as possible then action on foodstuffs needs to be taken, if not now then in the very near future.

Another view of the Lidl store, not in recent days but some time ago when an electrical problem caused empty shelves.

Whatever measures are taken, the likelihood is that some people may find it almost impossible to buy items such as fresh fruit and vegetables, essential for us to stay healthy. And it appears inevitable that prices will rise considerably putting further strain on those already under stress. Some countries, Denmark for example, have assured their citizens and businesses of money to help them through the crisis, with the Danish state paying 75% of the salaries of laid off workers and the government picking up the bill from employers for sick pay. But the UK, with the lowest state pension in the OECD, has no plans for anything like this.

Now is the time for looking after and saving people, the economy can be saved later.

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