If you were thinking of doing your weekly shop online this week to avoid busy supermarkets, you might want to think again. A surge in demand over the past few days has meant wait times for supermarket delivery across the island are now in the region of 10 to 14 days, with click and collect services ranging from five to 10 days, depending on where you live.
When you log onto Supervalu’s website, the first thing you see is a sign saying “We are currently experiencing very high levels of demand”, and on Monday morning they were showing no delivery slots for some areas, with several customers also complaining on Twitter of confirmed deliveries being cancelled at the last minute.
Tesco says that due to the upturn in demand, delivery slot availability has been decreased but that the company is doing its best to respond to demand. The website doesn't allow bulk buying online, and Tesco is appealing to people to have patience. Their free delivery service for over 65s remains in place, but they don't currently have a way of prioritising deliveries for the most vulnerable.
A SuperValu spokesperson said: “We have seen a huge spike in demand for our online shopping service. We do not have visibility of the age of our online shoppers, beyond that they need to be over 18 to use the service. We have specific measures in store to cater for elderly customers, particularly in light of the fact that they may not wish to use the internet. As our stores are individually owned and operated, each store has its own solution in place, but as an example some stores are taking orders from older customers by phone.”
While this demand for delivery slots may marginally put some people out, forcing them to drive around the city looking for toilet paper and soap like the rest of us, for people in at-risk categories such the elderly or those with underlying health conditions, or people who are disabled and struggle to do a full shop by themselves, being cut off from online grocery delivery is a serious issue.
Alone and Age Action, who provide support to older people, have both had a significant increase in calls over the past few days from elderly people unable to do their food shop online and who need help – some urgent, some ongoing. Alone has a pool of volunteers that they can link in with for help with grocery shopping or collecting prescriptions, which are generally dropped at the front door. Others who call the service may have been calling their local shop with their order: another service now under immense strain.
Providing a volunteer service for food shopping is not something that Age Action usually does, but with the increase in urgent requests for help, their volunteers and even staff members have been going to supermarkets where possible, but it’s complicated. They need to find someone close by, to arrange how the shop will be paid for and how it will be delivered.
They also say that many of their callers are worried about taking help from other individuals or newly sprung-up organisations, fearing that they might be scammed. For this reason they advise going to familiar organisations, who are linked in with groups at community level. They have also been liasing with Dunnes and Tesco about opening their stores earlier for elderly people when it's quieter, and the shop has been freshly cleaned.
Tesco Ireland announced on Monday that from Wednesady, March 18th, the elderly and family carers will have dedicated access to its 151 stores from opening times (7am or 8am, depending on the store) until 9am, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Lidl Ireland announced on Monday that it will have dedicated shopping hours for older customers from Tuesday, March 17th, with stores having prioritised queuing and assistance for elderly shoppers between 9am and 11am every day. Dunnes Stores also expressed interest in introducing similar measures.
Emma Golding, who lives in Skerries in Dublin, is in several at risk categories for Covid-19. She has asthma and a spinal cord injury, meaning that two of the three muscle groups used for breathing and coughing are compromised. Respiratory infections are very difficult to clear and can turn to pneumonia quite easily. She is also in a wheelchair, meaning she can only buy what fits in her lap.
For her, online shopping is not a convenience – it could be the difference between catching a potentially deadly virus or not – but she can’t get a slot for the next 10 days. Her sister-in-law is going to do her shopping, but she says not everyone will have this option available to them.
“What’s happening with online shopping is what happened with panic buying. People went out last Thursday not thinking about other people. People who are self-isolating, at risk, who have underlying health conditions or are in wheelchairs - they need the delivery slots. If you are healthy and have the ability to shop as safely as you can, leave the slots for people who need them.”
Jenny Robinson from Finglas in Dublin is in a similar situation. She has rheumatoid arthritis and asthma, and because she couldn't get an online food delivery slot for 10 days she had to go to a supermarket this morning. "The healthy and able citizens of Ireland should stop for a minute and think about the elderly and medically vulnerable. Their panic buying and hoarding is having a serious effect. I had to risk my life today to get some groceries. There are many people under 65 with compromised immune systems and underlying conditions who may not look disabled but are extremely vulnerable."
However, Alone and Age Action do see some positive behaviour; both charities say they have been overwhelmed with people wanting to volunteer since last week, many who will be out of work or working from home for the foreseeable future. Alone says it is struggling to get back to all of the emails it has received, and Age Action is trying to put in place systems where new volunteers can be used to meet new demands.
For anyone looking to use the next few weeks as a way to give back, you can register your time and service at volunteer.ie. And stop buying all the soap.
This article was amended on March 16th to include information on new elderly shopping hours in Tesco Ireland and Lidl Ireland.