Retailers must protect front-line staff

Delight Masilela, who works as a cashier, will celebrate her birthday during the lockdown on April 10. "People still need to eat, we need to help the community. At least if you have food and are eating healthy. It helps," she says.
Delight Masilela, who works as a cashier, will celebrate her birthday during the lockdown on April 10. "People still need to eat, we need to help the community. At least if you have food and are eating healthy. It helps," she says.
Image: Alaister Russell/The Sunday Times

Nothing could have prepared any of us for the onslaught of this deadly virus. Businesses, retail especially, had to get into gear quickly to protect both staff and customers. Some took all the necessary precautions as per the regulations in the Disaster Management Act. Others did not.

As we entered the fourth week of the nationwide lockdown, a picture began to emerge of an industry woefully ill-prepared to deal with the virus once it hit their stores.

Yesterday, this newspaper reported that the pandemic had led to the temporary closure of two supermarket chain stores in the Eastern Cape as staff tested positive for the virus.

In one of those stores, Woolworths at Access Park, in Port Elizabeth, the company appeared to have followed all the recommended health guidelines – sanitising, encouraging frequent handwashing, protective screens at the tills.  Still, three staff members tested positive for the virus.

Sadly, these are the people – like doctors and nurses – who are working on the front line, having to encounter thousands of people every day to ensure that we are all able buy our essential goods.

All efforts must, therefore, be taken to ensure they are provided with the necessary protective gear, and that their well-being be considered over profits.

And as the head of the National Health Laboratory Service, Dr Susan Louw, put it, there must be mass testing carried at retail stores.

“What we do know is that we need to scale up testing to staff outlets like this and people generally can know their status and appropriate steps can then be taken,” Louw said.

We agree that testing of staff in the retail industry must ramped up.

The health and safety of front-line workers must be protected at all costs. After all, they are doing what they can to keep the economy going.

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