In lockdown Britain supermarkets limit customers to enforce social distancing

LONDON (Reuters) – With Britain in lockdown, supermarkets have started limiting the number of customers in stores at any one time to enforce social distancing during the coronavirus outbreak.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday ordered Britons to stay at home to halt the spread of the virus, imposing curbs on everyday life without precedent in peacetime. But people are still allowed to leave their homes to shop for basic necessities.

The Waitrose chain said that from Tuesday its supermarkets and convenience shops would begin to limit customer numbers. It said limits will be specific to each branch based on the number of tills.

“Shop managers will use their judgment on customer numbers and when the shop is at capacity to manage social distancing will operate a one in, one out policy,” Waitrose said.

Waitrose, part of the John Lewis Partnership, is also using “marshals” to help manage queues outside shops and if necessary remind customers to respect the government’s social distancing rule requiring people to keep at least two metres apart from each other.

Outside Waitrose stores there will be signage and a coned area instructing customers to queue, keeping their distance from each other.

Sainsbury’s, Britain’s No. 2 supermarket group, said it will also be limiting customer numbers and erecting barriers outside stores.

Morrisons, the No. 4 player, is doing similar.

“We have signs about social distancing in the store and on those signs it does say we might from time to time limit the number of people that actually come in,” said a spokesman.

Market leader Tesco and No. 3 player Asda, had no immediate comment on their plans.

On Monday, Morrisons installed large perspex screens at all checkouts in all of its stores to shield customers and checkout staff from each other.

Waitrose and discounter Lidl also plan to install screens and Waitrose has ordered special protective visors for its staff.

All supermarkets are asking customers to pay with card rather than cash at tills as a way to help contain the spread of the virus, which has killed 335 people in Britain and infected 6,650.

Britain is raising the spending limit for contactless card payments to 45 pounds ($52) from 30 pounds on April 1 to reduce the need for physical contact with devices during the outbreak, the UK Finance industry association said on Tuesday.

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