Grocery shopping: The only chance to socialise during a Covid-19 lockdown


Going grocery shopping during a lockdown is the best chance one has of socialising – at a safe distance, of course. — AFP

Grocery shopping is usually low on the list of fun things to do.

But as the Covid-19 pandemic closes cafes, restaurants and nightclubs, the mundane act of going out to buy milk, eggs or lettuce, has taken on oversized importance for many people.

The local supermarket is now a lifeline for at least one Rome resident, 56-year-old Massimo Moi.

“It’s the only time I see people in real life, ” said Moi, who has looked forward to shopping twice a week ever since Italy’s lockdown began earlier this month (March 2020).

He and three or four friends arrange their trips in advance and meet up at the store.

“We stand in line one behind the other, keeping a safe distance from each other of course, and we chat, ” he said.

“Then I go home to my two cats, Odette and Anita. I love them very much, but they’re not very good conversationalists.”

As for video calls, “they can never replace real encounters”, he said.

Local officials have noticed that food shops are now among the last remaining gathering spots in the urban deserts created by the containment measures, and they are anxious to prevent new hotbeds of contagion.

Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi has announced disinfection operations in areas that still have substantial foot traffic, including pharmacies, supermarkets and hospitals.

Inside shops, many retailers now require customers to wear plastic gloves, provided on entering. Staff also wear them, along with masks.

“It’s almost like being in a hospital, ” said Moi.

In Spain, where the pandemic has already claimed over 3,400 lives, customers are sometimes required to disinfect their hands, put on gloves and leave their personal belongings at the entrance before beginning to shop.

In Madrid, a butcher behind the counter, Celestino Lopez, lamented that “conversations with customers are now much shorter”.

In Italy, some grocery stores have installed Plexiglas panels at the checkout to prevent close contact between cashiers and customers.

Still, when one comes nearly face-to-face with the cashier, it’s a moment to steal a bit of sociability, Moi said.

“The employees are really nice, and almost more welcoming than usual, especially the younger ones, ” he observed.

“A smile, a joke becomes really precious in these difficult moments. I appreciate it very much.”

In Lombardy, the hardest-hit region of Italy with over 4,000 deaths from Covid-19, some supermarket chains have even started to take customers’ temperatures with thermal scanners at the entrance. – AFP Relaxnews

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