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Coronavirus: Shoppers try to sneak past security to use dedicated hour for NHS workers at supermarket

Members of the public have been trying to sneak past security staff to use dedicated times set up to allow NHS workers to shop for food and basic supplies during the UK’s coronavirus outbreak. Doctors, nurses and 111 callers who are unable to go to shops at normal times due to their working hours have…

Members of the public have been trying to sneak past security staff to use dedicated times set up to allow NHS workers to shop for food and basic supplies during the UK’s coronavirus outbreak.

Doctors, nurses and 111 callers who are unable to go to shops at normal times due to their working hours have been given dedicated times to buy groceries at major supermarkets.

However, customers who were not entitled to an hour for NHS staff reportedly tried to sneak past security in a bid to get in early at a Tesco Extra in London on Sunday.

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One family is said to have argued with security staff and rammed their trollies into the barriers when their attempt to get into the supermarket failed.

The Tesco store in Gallions Reach, east London, was one of a number of supermarkets, alongside stores for Sainsbury’s, Iceland, and Lidl, which have offered specialist times for workers with NHS identification and elderly people.

Although NHS staff have largely welcomed the measure, some have expressed concern that hundreds of medical professionals, including those treating Covid-19 patients, have had to queue in close proximity with each other.

Workers at the Gallions Reach Tesco on Sunday faced a queue up to 600m long with no social distancing measures.

Francesca Hamilton, a 47-year-old sexual health nurse, said she had to leave the queue to help Tesco staff manage the crowds.

“I am surprised people have tried to jump the queue. It’s unbelievable,” Ms Hamilton said.

“Now is the time for people to look after us so that we can look after you but they are not listening.”

She added: “Tesco staff are doing their best but there are too many people so I decided to come out of the queue and help.”

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Linda Johnson, a 42-year-old NHS admin worker, raised concerns about some supermarkets introducing shopping hours for NHS workers and elderly customers at the same time.

“Some supermarkets are doing early opening hours for NHS staff and for the elderly at the same time. It is putting both the NHS workers and the vulnerable elderly people at risk,” Ms Johnson said.

“You have a large percentage of NHS workers coming together, who have potentially all been at risk, and there is no social distancing.

“We are all from different hospitals, playing different roles and potentially all cross-contaminating.”

In Bristol, members of the public also reportedly “stormed” another Tesco store on Sunday during what was supposed to be a dedicated time for NHS staff, according to BristolLive.

One nurse told the newspaper she was “beyond appalled” by how some people behaved, with some workers apparently being barged out of the way by members of the public.

A Tesco spokesperson said the company recognised many stores were “very busy” and it would be learning from its first attempts at dedicated hours.

“We are trying hard to do the right thing and while feedback has been positive, we also recognise that many stores were still very busy,” the spokesperson said.

“We’re going to take learnings onboard and continue to offer these priority shopping times to NHS workers.”

They added: “We really need customers to help us by giving NHS workers priority during this hour and so we ask all other customers to shop during the usual Sunday opening hours.”

Last week, Stephen Powis, the NHS England national medical director, said the British public should be “ashamed” of panic buyers who have left NHS workers unable to buy basic supplies.

“I would like to make a plea on behalf of all my colleagues in the NHS, nurses, doctors, paramedics and many, many others who are working incredibly hard at the moment to manage this outbreak of coronavirus,” Mr Powis said.

“It’s incredibly important that they too have access to food, to those essential supplies that they need.”

Additional reporting by agencies

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