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Dublin: 12 °C Thursday 2 July, 2020
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What does shopping look like in a pandemic? Here's what we learnt today

From queuing to face masks, the shopping experience looked very different today.

People shopping on Henry Street in Dublin.
People shopping on Henry Street in Dublin.
Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire/PA Images

WHAT DOES SHOPPING look like during a pandemic? As Ireland enters Phase Two of the easing of Covid-19 restrictions, shops across the country were tentatively raising the shutters and welcoming in customers for the first time in months. 

For some in Dublin, it was a case of nervously wiping down surfaces and monitoring the number of customers inside. For others, today was the real thing after weeks of planning and – in a few cases – dress rehearsals. 

Freshly cleaned streets greeted shoppers this morning, while a few gardaí could be seen patrolling. 

The government’s decision to begin Phase Two meant a broad range of shops were able to re-open. After weeks of sales being purely online, people could once again leave home browse for shoes, toys, clothes and plenty more. 

In Dublin, Grafton Street and Henry Street were busier than they had been in months since the government announced the closure of all-but-essential retail outlets back in March. 

If you didn’t make it out today or decided to avoid the crowds and stay at home, what can you expect once you venture out to shop?

Are there crowds?

Make no mistake about it, the streets were busy today. Shops only opened at 10.30am in line with the government’s advice to have staggered opening times, but by 1pm both Grafton Street and Henry Street were filled with thousands of people. 

At times, the capital seemed on the brink of normality. People looked happy and relaxed as they strolled along, with even a few buskers playing in the background. 

The mood seemed to chime with the latest data from consumers. According to Core Research, 74% of people are optimistic that Ireland can overcome the virus, while concern about Covid-19 has fallen to 51% – a decline of nearly 25% since March. 

ILAC The Ilac was busy today, even if not all shops were open. Source: TheJournal.ie.

One busker Paddy Finnegan said this was the busiest day he’d seen since he returned to the streets a week ago. “This is the first busy day back,” he told TheJournal.ie. “It’s always nice to have an audience.”

Inside shops, things were calmer – a reduced capacity necessitated by physical distancing meant that most stores had few people in them. 

The crowds also only stretched so far. Some areas of the city were largely quiet and empty of traffic, while the busier shopping areas had been transformed since the start of Phase One only a few weeks ago. 

Inside the Ilac Centre, one proprietor told TheJournal.ie that more people were out and about. It’s definitely “busier,” they said, but hardly back to normal. 

Technically a shopping centre, it’s managed to stay open to allow access to supermarkets and pharmacies. It should re-open fully on 15 June – for now, many shops inside remain closed. 

The crowds may ease in the days to come as the novelty of re-opened shops wears off – but be aware when you venture out that plenty of people could be around. 

Do I have to queue?

“It’s been very busy, we’ve had a constant queue since we opened our doors at 10.30am,” Laura O’Shea, a staff member at Office shoe shop on Henry Street, told TheJournal.ie

“People have been waiting consistently since we opened the doors. It’s just a matter of finding our feet now I think,” she said. 

Because of physical distancing inside shops, you will have to queue to get into places. In big stores like Smyths, long queues formed this morning as people waited to buy toys. “I’m inquiring about something for my granddaughter, hopefully they’ll be able to help me,” one woman in the queue said. 

Outside smaller shops, people also waited in line at a safe distance. Many of the staff who spoke to TheJournal.ie praised people’s patience – and the ease with which they’ve adapted to the new realities of shopping. 

Shoe shops seemed to be the most popular option for many people, although staff reported some difficulties. 

“We’ve trying to avoid people trying them on, but everyone seems to be trying anyway, O’Shea said, while acknowledging that this was probably inevitable. 

Do I need to wear a mask?

The benefits of the average person wearing a mask is both complex and contested, but officially there is no requirement for anyone shopping to wear a mask. 

While the government has advised that people wear masks when on public transport or shopping, there is nothing mandatory about it. 

Today, there were very few people wearing masks as they shopped. 

masks Some staff wore face shields. Source: TheJournal.ie

Are staff wearing masks?

In shops across the city, staff were using varying combinations of PPE. Some wore plastic face shields with masks and others had masks on only. In some shops, staff weren’t wearing masks. 

There’s no shop, however, that hadn’t changed significantly. Many had the now-familiar physical distance markings on the floor, while plenty had perspex sheets up at tills. 

The government’s own guide for employers about returning to work doesn’t endorse masks for all workers, but states that they should be provided as is “reasonably practicable”. Instead, it stresses good hand hygiene and measures to limit the interactions between staff and customers. 

You can expect to have to sanitise your hands before entering a shop, while you’ll also notice plenty of cleaning and wiping down of surfaces.

“It’s actually been pretty good,” Christine Kelly, the manager at Great Outdoors on South Great Georges Street, told TheJournal.ie. “We’ve got a one-way system in the shop, it’s all working out really well.”

And in terms of staff, “everyone is at ease”, she said. 

“We had training last week so everybody came in before their first day today, just to have an induction to show them how the shop was going to be laid out differently,” she said.

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Such a system was a common sight in many shops, while a few high-end retailers had introduced appointment systems for customers.  

Phil Whyte, who works at Chapters Bookshop on Parnell Street, told TheJournal.ie this morning that staff were excited to be back. He was manning the door to ensure that a safe number of people were in the bookshop. 

“It’s been a long and enforced break. It’s great to be back open now and it’s great to see people around town,” he said. 

coronavirus-mon-jun-8-2020 Security staff ensure social distancing while shoppers queue. Source: Niall Carson/PA Wire/PA Images

Are all shops open?

No. Shopping centres aren’t opening fully until 15 June. Penneys, Brown Thomas and Arnotts are all set to open their doors again later this week, while other retailers will open later. 

Plenty of places decided that now wasn’t the right time to open, judging by the shutters and signs on many doors. 

Then again, some unexpected shops are open for business. Despite the lack of tourists, Carrolls gift shops – there are several across Dublin – are open again. “We’re trying to target more of the local people for now until the tourism picks back up,” Danny Chilvers, a staff member at Carrolls on Westmoreland Street, told TheJournal.ie. 

Later phases will see more places open. The five-step plan originally outlined by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has now been reduced four, while a number of measures have been brought forward after the government announced the acceleration of the previous roadmap on Friday. 

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