Woolworths, Shoprite and Pick 'n Pay are among the growing list of retailers taking measures to protect staff and customers from coronavirus, while keeping doors open for business.
President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday declared a national state of disaster given the rate at which the coronavirus is spreading globally and instituted a travel ban and encouraged social distancing, among other things. The confirmed domestic infections stood at 85 on Tuesday.
Ramaphosa called on businesses across multiple sectors – mining, retail, banking and farming – to take "necessary measures" for hygiene control.
"We also call on the management of malls, entertainment centres and other places frequented by large numbers of people to bolster their hygiene control," Ramaphosa said.
It appears businesses are following suit. Business Insider reported that gym Virgin Active has halved its group classes and is starting to offer classes online. Cape Town-based ice-cream café, The Creamery, will be introducing hand sanitisers at point of sales and doing away with communally accessible water jugs and other utensils.
Shoprite said it has instituted an executive-level task committee to respond to the crisis. This task team meets every 48 hours, to keep tabs on the progress made on action plans across departments, the retail group said.
Apart from communicating regular messages on hygiene among employees and customers in-stores, Shoprite said its staff have access to a 24-hour helpline which offers information and guidance.
"Spray bottles with disinfectant have been deployed at all till points and are used by cashiers and packers to sanitise the entire till surface, including pin pads as well as their own hands.
"Customers can also make use of these spray bottles apart from the wipes provisioned at each store entrance for use on hands and trolley and basket handles," the group said. "Bakery products and salad bowls previously openly displayed, are now bagged or tubbed before put on display."
Stop panic buying
Shoprite also appealed to consumers to stop panic buying, and assured that is "doing everything in its power" to keep restocking shelves as quickly as possible.
"The gaps which are now evident on our shelves and those of other supermarkets are because of the unprecedented demand as a result of fear over the effect of the coronavirus, but we have new stock arriving regularly and we are working around the clock to keep shelves stocked," said CEO Pieter Engelbrecht.
"We have also increased orders, are sourcing new and additional suppliers and our warehouses have sufficient stock to replenish our store shelves.
"The unprecedented demand has made it difficult to eliminate gaps immediately on the shelves but we are working tirelessly to fill those shelves as quickly as possible from our warehouses," he added.
"If we all shop as we normally do, our stores will soon return to normal and there will not be empty shelves," said Engelbrecht.
According to the group, its online and click-and collect services are currently at full capacity. "We understand consumers' concerns but appeal to them to support each other to make sure everyone can get access to the items they need. Stockpiling will hit the most vulnerable the hardest," said Engelbrecht.
Similarly, Pick 'n Pay has experiencing shortages of stock on its shelves, Business Insider reported.
"We have already seen an increase in purchases of certain products, and we ask customers to shop responsibly and with their community in mind," the retailer tweeted on Tuesday.
"I want to encourage all customers to shop in their usual way, and resist the temptation to stock up beyond what you need.
"We have an excellent supply chain and an excellent team of suppliers. We will be able to maintain a good and steady supply of food and other products in our stores. If customers help us by shopping normally, we will be able to minimise the number of times we have to limit how many of some specific products each customer can buy," CEO Richard Brasher, said in a statement on its website.
The retailer is also kicking up its hygiene measures, such as putting more time and resources in its cleaning regime and making hand sanitisers available to staff. Pick n Pay is also working with shopping centre landlords to ensure they put additional hygiene measures in place.
Shopping hour for pensioners
Pick 'n Pay also announced a special shopping hour for pensioners at its supermarkets and hypermarkets. This will be implemented on Wednesdays, starting this week.
"Stores will be open exclusively for customers over the age of 65 years from 7 – 8am. Customers should have a valid ID to enter the store during this time," the retailer said in a statement.
"We know that the coronavirus is more of a threat to older people, and it is thus especially important that our older customers limit the number of times they are in busy spaces as much as possible. This dedicated shopping hour for our elderly customers will give them exclusive use of the store," said retail executive of marketing John Bradshaw.
Apart from implementing personal hygiene measures at its stores, by increasing the amount of hand sanitisers available at entrances and checkout points, Woolworths said it also has protocols n place if coronavirus is detected in its stores and at its head office.
"If circumstances require, we will close a store to protect our customers and people. However, we believe our safety plans are sufficient to minimise any disruption," said South African CEO Zyda Rylands. Woolworths said that its online shopping option will always be available.
In an emailed response to questions from Fin24, Woolworths said it has experienced an increase in sales for certain products both in store and online. "In order to ensure enough products for everyone, we have set a limit of five units per product per customer.
"We will continue to replenish our products regularly. We would like to assure our customers that we are working with our suppliers to ensure consistent supply of our products so that everyone has access to the food and essentials they need," Woolworths said.
Pharmacy, health and beauty retailer Clicks is also implementing a six-item limit on products per customer to ensure everyone gets access to essential. "This is on all our front shop products including hand sanitisers, toilet paper, vitamins, children's medicine and pain relief," said Rachel Wrigglesworth, Clicks chief commercial officer.
The group has also increased orders on high-demand categories and is working with suppliers to make sure stock gets to stores as quickly as possible. "We have increased the number of deliveries to our stores to ensure we can meet customer demand in the shortest possible time," said Wrigglesworth.
Mobile operator MTN said it was working to ensure business continuity. At its offices, MTN has installed thermal scanners as an "early detection" method for testing body temperature. MTN is also making hand sanitiser available at its offices and has implemented a work-from-home plan for its employees.
E-hailing service provider Uber has also introduced precautionary measures, which includes temporarily suspending the accounts of riders and drivers who are confirmed to have Covid-19. Affected drivers will be provided financial assistance for up to 14-days while their account is on hold, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in a note to customers.
"We are working to provide drivers with disinfectants to help them keep their cars clean. Supplies are very limited, but we're partnering with manufacturers and distributors to source as much as possible. We'll be prioritising distribution to drivers in cities with the greatest need," said Khosrowshahi.
Customers can also ask drivers to leave food deliveries at the door, to avoid social contact.