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'Increasingly antagonistic' people not wearing masks in shops as retailers ask for higher vaccine priority for staff

RGDATA is asking for frontline retail staff to be vaccinated quicker.

File photo.
File photo.
Image: Shutterstock/Drazen Zigic

A GROUP REPRESENTING grocery shops and convenience stores in Ireland has said that retail workers are having to deal with “an increasingly antagonistic” group of people who refuse to wear masks or social distance in shops.

In a letter to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly this week, RGDATA said that it is receiving daily reports from its members of staff having to deal with “aggressive behaviour when they politely ask for safety protocols to be followed”. 

The group, which represents 4,000 grocery shops, convenience stores and supermarkets, has asked that frontline retail staff are given an increased priority when it comes to receiving a Covid-19 vaccine. 

“Under the current plan it seems as if essential retail and food logistics workers will not be considered for a vaccine until Stage 13 (out of 15 stages),” RGDATA director general Tara Buckley said.

“If this remains the position, the levels of absence from shops currently being experienced are likely to be exacerbated with clear and present threats to the maintenance of food supplies nationally.”

Currently, with two Covid-19 vaccines approved in Ireland, the priority groups receiving a vaccine are people aged 65 and over in long-term residential care and frontline healthcare workers. 

Next in line for the vaccine after these groups are people aged 70 and older.

Sixth on the list are key workers, including those delivering the vaccination programme, while tenth on the list are key workers in essential jobs who cannot avoid a high risk of exposure. 

“Other workers in occupations important to the functioning of society” are 13th on the list, but prior to that many groups of people such as people working in the education sector and people aged 18-64 with certain medical conditions are due to receive a vaccine. 

In her letter to Donnelly, RGDATA’s Buckley said that the highest numbers of people eligible for Covid-19 illness payment this week are in the retail/wholesale sector. 

She said: “As you are aware this payment is made to a person who is self- isolating or where the person has been diagnosed with the infection.

“RGDATA members [...] are reporting significant challenges to managing staff rostering, and keeping staff in separate pods so as to minimise the impact on the shop of a member of staff getting the virus or being a close contact of a person with the virus.

“Given the levels of the virus in the community it is no surprise that essential retail staff and food logistics workers are being impacted and that the figures of those out of work and on the Covid 19 illness payment are rising.”

Highlighting the aggressive nature of a small number of customers, Buckley said it was important that food shops remain open and staffed to service local communities.

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“I understand that there are plenty of groups and sectors that will seek to argue their priority to secure vaccination against Covid-19,” she said.

“In light of the figures released today on the Covid 19 Illness payment, and the continued operation of retail grocery shops through the Level 5 lockdown, I hope that an evidence-based analysis will result in a change in the order of vaccination priority for essential retail and food logistics workers.”

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, a Department of Health spokesperson said that the allocation group has focused in on those most at risk of getting seriously ill from Covid-19.

However, the allocation strategy remains subject to change. 

The spokesperson said: “The priority is to first vaccinate and protect directly the most vulnerable amongst us, that is, those most likely to have a poor outcome if they contract the virus. The priority is to directly use vaccines to save lives and reduce serious illness, hence the focus on the over 65 year old cohort in long term residential care facilities, and healthcare workers in frontline services often caring for the most vulnerable.

“All of the groups will be covered as further vaccine supplies become available and the immunisation programme is rolled out nationally.

“The evidence will be kept under review and the allocation groups may be updated, where necessary, in light of new evidence.”

About the author:

Sean Murray

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