Woolworths has announced its supermarkets will open exclusively to older shoppers and people with disabilities for one hour each morning, in response to community fears that vulnerable Australians are missing out on vital groceries amid widespread stockpiling due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

The company says that where possible, its stores will exclusively welcome those shoppers between 7am and 8am from today until Friday. The stores will accept all other shoppers after that time period.

That provision may be extended into next week if the situation dictates.

The announcement comes after The Sunday Project host Lisa Wilkinson used last night’s broadcast to call on Australian supermarkets to protect at-risk shoppers, who may arrive at supermarkets to find shelves already stripped of toilet paper, hand sanitiser, and other important groceries.

Echoing concerns that older Australians and those with compromised immune systems are more susceptible to the worst effects of COVID-19 than other Australians, Wilkinson said allowing those shoppers to get in and out unimpeded is “a no-brainer.”

An IGA supermarket in Altona, Victoria, has instituted a similar policy. Speaking to The Today Show this morning, IGA Supermarkets CEO Fred Harrison said the company will today explore introducing the policy nation-wide.

Overnight, Coles reassured shoppers that there are enough goods for everyone, but installed new two-per-person limits on items pasta, flour, dry rice, paper towels, paper tissues, and hand sanitisers.

Coles also urged visitors not to take their frustrations out on staff.

Overall, the message is this: there are people out there who really, really need access to certain goods amid the COVID-19 outbreak, and it’s best for everyone if you let them shop unimpeded.

Image: Biancha De Marchi / AAP Image