Retailers around the world are changing their opening hours to allow elderly people and others most at risk of contracting severe cases of COVID-19 to shop more comfortably.
Several major US chains, including Walmart, Target, Whole Foods, and Stop & Shop have dedicated special opening hours to those shoppers.
Scroll down to see a list of stores who are extending their hours to accommodate them.
Major retailers around the world are changing their opening hours in order to allow elderly people who are most at risk of contracting deadly cases of COVID-19 — the disease caused by the new coronavirus — to shop more comfortably.
The disease has already spread to more than 218,000 people, and across 145 countries. As of Thursday morning, the US has reported more than 9,400 cases and more than 150 deaths.
The virus has affected older people with preexisting health problems most seriously, according to a recent study from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The data also suggests that the risk of dying from the disease increases with age.
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Meanwhile, stores have reported empty shelves and long lines as people move to stockpile essentials, including toilet paper. Several retailers have placed purchasing limits on essential goods like hand sanitizer, diapers, rice, pasta, and eggs.
All this has left some seniors afraid to buy groceries. Several volunteer groups, including Meals on Wheels, have started stepping up efforts to deliver groceries to the elderly.
Several major chains have also stepped up their policies to ensure seniors can continue to buy groceries, with less fear of disease transmission, by thoroughly disinfecting their stores and devoting new opening hours to them.
Several New York officials have called on the state to implement these hours as policy.
"I hope the scattered shopping hours would lead to seniors being in a store with less people," Bettina Fries, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Medicine, told The Washington Post.
Here are the stores that have dedicated special opening hours to elderly shoppers:
Whole Foods: Opening one hour early to shoppers aged 60+ in the US and Canada, and to shoppers aged 70+ in the UK, as well as closing up to two hours early for restocking and sanitizing.
Whole Foods said in a statement that it would temporarily adjust its opening and closing hours to better serve the elderly community.
From March 18, all Whole Foods Market stores in the US and Canada will open to customers aged 60 and over one hour before opening to the general public.
From March 19, all Whole Foods Market stores in the UK will service customers who are 70 and older one hour before opening.
The store will also close up to two hours early to give team members extra time to restock shelves and sanitize stores, it said.
Dollar General: Dedicating the first hour of opening to seniors, and closing one hour early to clean and restock.
In a March 16 statement, the company announced that it would adjust its hours of operation and close early.
It said the first hour of each shopping day would be dedicated to senior shoppers.
"Beginning tomorrow, Dollar General is strongly encouraging that the first hour of operations each day be dedicated solely for the shopping needs of senior customers, who are one of the groups most vulnerable to the COVID-19 coronavirus," the statement said.
"In keeping with the Company's mission of Serving Others, Dollar General wants to provide these at-risk customers with the ability to purchase the items they need and want at the beginning of each day to avoid busier and more crowded shopping periods."
Stores will also close one hour earlier to allow employees to clean and restock shelves.
Target: Reserving the first hour of shopping every Wednesday to the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, and closing at 9 p.m. for cleaning and restocking.
Target announced that it would reserve the first hour of shopping each Wednesday at stores nationwide for "vulnerable guests," including the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.
"We are encouraging other guests to plan their shopping trips around this timeframe," it said.
Beginning March 18, all stores will close at 9 p.m. to allow employees to clean and restock store shelves.
Walmart: Hosting an hour-long "senior shopping event" every Tuesday aged 60+ and adjusting operating hours for enhanced cleaning.
Walmart said it would be introducing temporary changes to its store hours, including adjusting operating hours to 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. daily to allow for enhanced cleaning.
It added that it would host an hour-long "senior shopping event" every Tuesday for customers aged 60 and older from March 24 to April 28.
This event would start one hour before the store opens to the public, and includes its pharmacies and vision centers.
Stop & Shop: Opening earlier to service elderly and more vulnerable customers from 6 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. every day.
The grocery store chain said that it would open early to service their "most vulnerable" customers from 6 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. every day from March 19.
"During those hours, we look forward to welcoming customers who are age 60 and over as well as customers who may have weakened immune systems and are more susceptible to COVID-19," the statement reads.
"We plan to make these hours available EVERY day during this period, so it's not necessary for everyone to come on the first day. This could result in large crowds, the very situation we are looking to prevent as it will make it more difficult for customers to practice social distancing."
Fairway Market: Reserving 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. for shoppers aged 65 and older and people with "increased susceptibility to serious illness," and increasing sanitation.
The New York-headquartered chain said it be open to shoppers aged 65 and older as well as those with "increased susceptibility to serious illness" from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. Monday through Saturday, from March 18 onwards.
Fairway also said it would increase the frequency of sanitizing high-traffic areas in-store, as well as allow users to continue paying for items using its mobile checkout app.
The Fresh Market: Designating 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. on weekdays to seniors and at-risk individuals.
The Fresh Market said it would designate special shopping hours — 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. from Mondays to Fridays — to seniors and other individuals most at risk.
Northgate Market chain: Opening one hour early, at 7 a.m., to let seniors and those with disabilities shop first.
The Northgate Gonzales Market chain will implement special senior hours at all of its 41 Southern California locations.
Senior citizens and customers with disabilities will be able to shop from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. daily. The store will be open to the general public from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Several international stores have also implemented seniors-only hours.
Coles, Australia: Launching a "Community Hour" from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. for the elderly and those with disabilities.
Coles, an Australian supermarket chain, said it would launch a dedicated "Community Hour" to improve access for the elderly and those with disabilities from March 18.
Community Hour will be held Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m.
To enter the store, customers need to present a government-issued identification card verifying their age or disability.
Woolworths, Australia: Opening from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. for the elderly and disabled from March 17 to March 20.
Woolworths, another Australian chain, said it would temporarily introduce a dedicated shopping hour for the elderly and those with disabilities.
The retailer said it will be opening exclusively for the elderly and those with a disability from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. from March 17 to March 20.
Customers will need to present a government-issued concession card to obtain entry.
Iceland, Britain: Opening from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. exclusively for the elderly.
Iceland, a British supermarket chain, will open its stores from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. exclusively for the elderly.
Nationwide, a major UK bank, will also open one hour early for its senior customers across 100 branches.
Not all retailers are in favor of changing store hours for the vulnerable, citing health advice.
H-E-B, a San Antonio-based grocery store, told CNN that it would not be changing its store hours, citing recommendations from health officials.
"We feel asking a group to congregate at our stores in a certain time frame is not a safe idea," the company told CNN.
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