“What is in place to protect supermarket workers amid fears of the novel coronavirus?”
This is the question being asked by Managing Director of Viewport Supermarket, Melony Hunte.
On Friday, the supermarket which is Tobago’s second largest supermarket chain on the island with locations both in Canaan and Scarborough, reopened its doors to the public.
This came after patrons to the establishment were greeted with locked doors and a sign saying, "Sorry. We’re closed until further notice" on Thursday. The notice was also posted to the establishment’s social media page, with a number of islanders asking the establishment to reconsider.
On Friday morning the doors reopened as another notice to their Facebook page read: “We are pleased to announce that we will be re-opening today Friday 20th March after thorough sanitisation and with new stringent measures in place to help provide a safe environment for all patrons. We would also like to dispel some of the rumours being circulated. Our closure became necessary to avoid placing anyone in harm's way as retailers are placed under tremendous strain during challenging moments, we are stocked and ready to serve.”
When Newsday visited the supermarket on Friday customers could be seen trickling in and though they spoke on the condition of anonymity, they all were happy with the reopening.
Speaking with Newsday on Friday, Hunte said the safety of their 75-plus employees was priority.
“We were feeling very unsafe and we felt that we needed to have an intervention from the authorities as to how to keep our employees safe. There was no policy that we knew of and no guidelines, and we took the time to reach out and to make a better plan in going forward,” she said.
Last Thursday, the supermarket was filled with shoppers panic buying amid fear of the impact of covid19.
The company advised shoppers to "take a look at our updated policies and procedures for customers, staff, and suppliers to help keep everyone safe.” Sinks were installed and hand soap and water provided at the front of both branches, as customers were asked to simply wash their hands before entering, but according to Hunte, this too posed a challenge.
“We were getting such difficulties in getting the members of the public to wash their hands and it was such a chore just to get them to wash their hands, so we knew that the workers were in jeopardy.
“We made contact with the authorities and the health department made a visit. We have increased our sanitation measures and we are now getting full compliance from the public. I must say that I am very happy to see people using the wash stations. We’ve also introduced social distancing, we’re limiting the number of persons in the store and we’re getting a lot of co-operation from the public.”
She said their short closure highlighted the fact that supermarkets are being asked to remain open, but they are not being fed adequate information
“With the reopening, it’s not that we’re so much in a better position. We’re still not been treated as though we are important emergency people. Masks and gloves have been made available to protect health workers, but there’s still noting in place to protect supermarket workers, so we still have some issues that we would like to have addressed because supermarkets are expected to stay open. We can’t stay home but yet still there is noting in place to protect us from contracting the virus. We’re still very much concerned about that.”
Hunte said the supermarket will soon launch the Viewport go app which will assist in safe shopping.
“Viewport go is an app that we have been working on for some time, but we’ve intensified the work.
“Viewport go is going to allow customers to go to our website and they’ll see a listing of everything that we carry in the store. They can select it like an online purchase and pick up and pay at the store. The logistics of delivering and all that, we’re not going to do that just yet but we’re certainly working on getting the items packed and ready to be picked up at the store.”