As essential businesses, grocery stores have remained open for the duration of the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon. Over the past three weeks, grocery stores have been busy catering to consumer demand and making sure that sanitation measures are strictly implemented. 

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has laid down several policies in order to ensure that grocery operations are streamlined and safe for staff and shoppers. To prevent panic buying, five days after the declaration of the quarantine, DTI announced a limit on the number of products each person can buy. The department has also implemented a price freeze on goods in order to keep essentials available to the people who need them. 

DTI Secretary Ramon Lopez has also been working closely with LGUs to secure that individual sellers and establishments will not abuse policies, with a special attention on no-hoarding and price freeze policies. Any person found violating these will be fined and could face imprisonment for up to 15 years. 

In a circular dated Mar. 29, the DTI also urged groceries and pharmacies to prioritize senior citizens. Stores must provide assistance to elderly customers, assign a senior citizens lane for checkout, and if possible, designate an exclusive period for senior citizens to shop (although if they don’t make it within the allotted hours, they will still be prioritized ahead of ordinary buyers). 

In a circular dated Mar. 29, the DTI also urged groceries and pharmacies to prioritize senior citizens. Stores must provide assistance to elderly customers, assign a senior citizens lane for checkout, and if possible, designate an exclusive period for senior citizens to shop.

Procedures for better shopping

Supermarkets and grocery stores are also stepping up to the challenge of operating amid a pandemic. There are daily updates on social media channels regarding operating hours (especially this Holy Week), safety measures, and other important developments in compliance with social distancing measures implemented by DTI’s precedent of having only one person per square meter of unimpeded space. 

Power Plant Mall’s Marketplace has been accommodating only 30 customers at a time to guarantee social distancing while Puregold and Shopwise also adhere to the one-meter distance rule between customers.

Aside from providing alcohol and sanitizers at entrances and various points inside establishments, stores are also rolling out individual measures and initiatives to help shoppers have an optimal and safe shopping experience. Express lanes for medical workers have been opened in SM Markets and WalterMart grocery stores. For member-exclusive S&R, medical and healthcare workers can renew their membership for one year, free of charge. Similar to other establishments, healthcare workers are prioritized and are urged to use an express lane at checkout. 

Meanwhile, Landers Superstore and Fisher Supermarket close early in order to disinfect their space. Most of the grocery stores are also making sure to disinfect their shopping carts and shelves. The use of personal protective equipment is also being strictly implemented for shoppers to reduce further risk of transmission. 

Power Plant Mall’s Marketplace has been accommodating 30 customers at a time to make sure that social distancing is practiced. 

Online grocery shopping has also been pushed to make shopping easier and lessen the density of people coming into the establishments. WalterMart and Landers for instance offer same-day deliveries even before the quarantine was enforced. 

SM Markets also have their Click & Collect system in which customers can order online and pick them up at the closest Hypermarket or Supermarket branch. While not strictly a supermarket, Watsons has also rolled out its home delivery service to cater to Metro Manila residents. Online groceries like Metro Mart and PhilGrocer continue to operate as well. 

Fashion retailer Harlan + Holden for its part has launched COOP, an online, contactless grocery initiative in which Harlan + Holden’s mobile app is used as the ordering platform. You can pick up your groceries two to three days after placing your order in Because Coffee in One Bonifacio High Street Mall or at its Power Plant Mall branch. 

Personal precautions

Shoppers also play a part in streamlining grocery operations. There are a number of precautions that must be taken to ensure their safety as well as those of the staff and fellow customers. Proper use of personal protective equipment like masks is recommended, although hoarding is highly discouraged. If you need to cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and sneeze or cough into your elbows. 

Practicing social distancing is also a proven way to minimize the transmission of bodily fluids. You can also opt for contactless options like mobile wallets to avoid skin-to-skin contact. 

When it comes to sharing information online, always be vigilant about fake news to stop the spread of unnecessary fear and panic. The Philippine General Hospital recently released a statement on rumors that have been spreading regarding contracting COVID-19 while grocery shopping. 

As for sanitizing groceries, aside from washing vegetables and fruits thoroughly, wiping down every package and container is not necessary because there is no evidence yet of the coronavirus spreading through food packaging or surfaces. 

A basic and fundamental rule for all grocery shoppers: Wash your hands and always sanitize. It’s everyone’s responsibility to be careful and cautious to avoid contracting the virus or spreading it to others.