No social distancing: Queues for Woolwich Tesco 90 minutes before opening

Despite belated closures of schools and pubs there are still mass queues at various supermarkets today ignoring social distancing guidelines.

Supermarkets appear to be a major blindspot in strategies to prevent Covid-19’s spread. It’s of course difficult to separate those who need essentials, such as NHS staff from those who do not, and those in need are forced to wait for hours.

Since the photo was taken queues have extended further back:

Despite Government eventually relenting and closing schools and pubs after initially refusing, there are still mass numbers congregating together in other areas such as coastal resorts.

None of this bodes well. The death toll increase in the UK is similar to the trajectory  seen in Italy two weeks ago, and they have a greater number of intensive care beds per head of population.

Appealing to people to stop queuing for supermarkets has not worked – and many need to queue. There are essential NHS staff waiting in that Woolwich queue who havn’t been able to buy for days. In some places they are being told to head to the front of queues and wait in densely crowded areas near doors.

What’s the solution? Far stricter controls at the door preventing anyone but key workers at times involving police- and for longer periods of the day? But then police numbers have been heavily reduced over the past decade – so that possibility is stretched. There’s no easy answers but this isn’t working.

UPDATE: It seems a similar issue at Lewisham Tesco. This is a tweet from Greenwich Council leader Dan Thorpe:



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I've lived in south east London most of my life growing up in Greenwich borough and working in the area for many years. The site has contributors on occasion and we cover many different topics. Living and working in the area offers an insight into what is happening locally.

28 thoughts on “No social distancing: Queues for Woolwich Tesco 90 minutes before opening

  • Sainsbury’s and Tesco published revised information for key workers/elderly yesterday. Perhaps you might update this post with it?

  • Perhaps keyworkers should be given special passes allowing them to jump to the front of any queue at any time. The rest of us should be restricted to buying one item only of any supermarket product. Additionally, those using the same payment card more than once per day should be disallowed – obviously, there are many ways to get round this but it might alleviate some of the idiotic selfishness that has become all too prevalent.

    • While I agree and it sounds like a good idea, I just don’t think it’s currently possible for their systems to determine if the same card is being used.

      I just think the simplist thing to do is a staff member goes up and down the line and call out to everyone who is a key worker and have some sort of ID proof and clearly the very old, line up separately. and they are served first (let people in few at a time)

      Everyone else has to wait, anyone who pushes or acts aggressive will be refused entry, limit items per person, and make it clear that the supply chain is unaffected – there is no need to stockpile & panic.

      I sometimes despair by some peoples actions!

    • One item only? That’s fine if you live alone, not if you have to feed a family!

      • Well, it’s already limited to three, and in some cases two, and we’ve all seen the empty shelves. What do you suggest?

        • More work on the supply line side of things, most shops operate on just-in-time supply and have this primed to normal requirements when people eat at work/school. If they need to stop hoarding it will need to be a properly council allocated ration system.

          • Nice idea, but given the record of both Greenwich and Bexley councils on just about everything else imaginable, I think the likelihood of them organising a properly allocated rationing system this side of Christmas is exceedingly remote.

    • Very good idea. I’m a key worker but I cant mix up with people queuing for essentials . I have children in the house with almost nothing to eat apart from plain rice and biscuit. Our health and the health of people we care for in the community is far valuable then mixing with people who might even be infected just for the sake of buying essentials. Socialdistancing is very crucial even in our homes children are trying to keep their spaces between each other. And also avoiding going out un necessary.
      Well spot on Tim.

    • Would be great if a neighbourhood milk man service delivering essentials to residents could be in place to stop the need for people to leave their house. Not sure how easy this would be to do but if the royal mail partnered with the supermarkets perhaps and that way physical shopping could be left for the key workers only? Perhaps shopping lists could be pinned on doors or something or rations carried out of 2 -3 items per household left on door steps and items paid for by some kind of community account that everyone puts into? Perhaps we don’t have the infrastructure for something like this but it would definitely help to reduce over crowding and queues at the shops.

  • Clearly there is no way to stop some people from stock piling.
    The only solution I see is that supermarkets keep some essentials, fruits, veggies and meat in their stock room and when elderly or key workers need things that are not available in store, they ask supermarket staff and they will get it for them.
    Yes, this will require more staff (would 2 staff be enough, and a specific queue area for elderly and another queue area for key workers?), but is there any other solution?

  • No disrepect to key workers and the elderly but this a a problem for everyone who did not sttockpile. I am not a key worker and relatively young, yet I have not been able to go shopping for 2 weeks now to allow those less able to have a chance. It has now reached the point where I have no food left at home. I dont know what to do, no food at home and no food in the stores. I cant believe I will literally be starving in a first world country because of these low intelligence panic buyers.

    • I sympathize, as you are effectively punished for doing the right thing (seems to be common state of affairs in this country)!
      I personally would stay clear of the big supermarkets and shop in the express stores or local convenient stores, they seem to be fairing a lot better in my opinion.

  • I don’t think queues containing aggressive people can be effectively policed except by utilising the police, or maybe the army, which’ll no doubt be more visible on the streets soon enough when people refuse to comply with inevitable restrictions on their movements. There is food left though – I went to Morrison’s yesterday, and there were amount of various foodstuffs there, just not the obvious basics. I reckon we’re going to have to get used to eating things we wouldn’t normally choose.

    • Very true. We are certainly eating more fresh veg each day and a chance to make some bubble and squeak.

    • Certain people will show their true colours in the next few weeks. Gonna get ugly.

      It is the supermarket staff I feel sorry for. Having to deal with these low lifes and then getting the lurgy as a result.

      Martial law may be needed.

  • Part of the problem is Sunday is the new Saturday for food shopping. There will be a large number of people trying to do a ‘whole week’ shop and this has become increasingly difficult in the past few days. Certainly there is no excuse for mob behaviour but surely there should be enough police available (particularly in Woolwich Town centre) just to stick two on the door to ensure priority shoppers like NHS staff, who will all have IDs, can take advantage of a set opening time.

    • Tesco’s in Lewisham was turning people away on Sunday morning because the shop was rammed full with queues for the checkouts ‘going out the door’. There being a car park meant that people were able to load up trolleys and then wheel it all to the car. Iceland, M&S and Sainsbury’s weren’t busy because there is no parking nearby.

      I live alone and have food for the rest of the week, but I will need to try and restock next week. You simply cannot stop people from looking for food, stockpiling notwithstanding.

  • I am in the increased risk group. I’m fortunate, in the respect, that my step-daughter and Neice, have both come to mine, to support me during these trying times. That being said, I am increasingly worried about the possibility of one of them bringing the virus back with them after a trip to the store! Because of their being with me, we require more frequent trips to the stores, due to the 2 item restrictions. (Certainly, a dual-edged sword, if ever there was one.) I thought I’d never say this: But some form of rationing might be the best solution. If Not rationing, then Post Code shopping access? (Certain Post Codes, on Certain Days?)

    • Funnily enough, I also also thinking of a postcode/local access to shops!

  • Problem is communication from the authorities. There has been no guidance or reassurance with respect to shopping that I have seen – just the message don’t panic buy.

    if they issued a recommendation to what to have in the house, plus they told people that food shops will remain open even at the worst time (I guess look to Italy) then people wont panic as much. I suspect people are panic buying firstly because everyone else is. Secondly they think food shops will be closed for months, and thirdly because people want to reduce trips to the shops as each trip is a risk that you get infected.
    However, i bet you the last reason hasn’t been even thought about by most people hoarding.
    And I bet many people go to the shops just as frequently – ‘just need that extra roll of toilet paper’.

  • Sainsburys now saying NHS workers can enter the shop at 0730 on Mondays, Wednesdays & Fridays. ID to be shown. Elderly from 0800 on the same days. Again ID to be shown.

  • Much quieter in Tesco this afternoon. Two Tesco people on every till and customers keeping well apart. Still some shortages.

  • As we know, thisTesco is the nearest supermarket to Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Oxleas Psychiatric Hospital, 3 prisons And within walking distance of the main council frontline services as well as Royal Artillery barracks (where the Gunners and the Kings Troop are based) so lots of essential workers would use that particular store.

  • I’ve noticed today that supermarkets were much better stocked (except t rolls/eggs/pasta!), so hopefully this will improve as the week goes on. There was also much more security staff at Tesco Woolwich and Sainsbury Charlton. Supermarkets must be making more £££ the last couple of weeks, the onus is on them to manage priority customers/queues/ purchase limits rather than the overstretched Met

  • All Key workers whoever, they work for could order on line and have it deliverd direct to their homes from the supermarkets warehouses.rather than taken from the supermarket shelves.

    This could also apply to the vulerable people with chronic long term health conditions. Proof would be required of keyworker status or health condition when ordering and on delivery along with photgraphic ID.

    This system could operate a few days a week for shopping to be delivered to Key Workers and vulnerable people. Other home delivery services would continue as nornal from supermarkets.

    Some other companies who provide a frozen meal delivery service for the elderly like Wiltshire Farm Foods for example could also possibly extend their service to Key Workers.

    However, for the most vulnerable elderly and disabled people who struggle to get out I would like to see Councils re-introduce the meals on wheels service so vulerable people get a hot meal delivered to them on a daily basis. They could be delivered in electric vans which can help keep the meals hot why they are being delivered,

  • Agree CDT. You have made some really excellent suggestions here. They could work well with the right logistics management.

    The orders could be picked and packed in the warehouse and taken to the local store covering the persons post code for delivery or from warehouse direct to customers on designated delivery days.

    I also agree I think the hot food meals on wheels services also need to be re-introduced by local councils for elderly and vulnerable people. These kind of vital services should have never been withdrawn,

  • I don’t wish to sound negative but, while these ideas are great in theory, they’d take months to implement in practice. There’s a current waiting time of several weeks for online shopping requests to be processed, and getting the council to target specific meals for specific vulnerable people and getting it right would be a nightmare – at the moment Bexley council can’t even organise the usual rubbish collections properly. Meanwhile, I’ve been to Asda, Morrisons, Lidl and Farmfoods in the last two days and been able to buy just about anything I wanted to, though it did take a while to queue for payment.

  • The changes to online shopping as mentioned by CDT where online shopping oders would be picked and packed in the warehouse would not actually take that long to set up and could be the way forward for on line shopping in the future.

    Leaving stock on the supermarket shelves for those who do not normally use the on line shopping service and actively go shopping at the supermarket on a regular basis.


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