Shopping under the lockdown - how the coronavirus crisis has changed our trip to the supermarket

Shopping at Sainsbury's in London Colney during the lockdown.

Shopping at Sainsbury's in London Colney during the lockdown. - Credit: Archant

The customer, a man in his 70s, was engaged in friendly banter with another pensioner standing right next to him.

Shopping at Sainsbury's in London Colney during the lockdown.

Shopping at Sainsbury's in London Colney during the lockdown. - Credit: Archant

“Do you think we should be two metres away?” he laughed, prompting a similar response from the stranger he was chatting to.

When someone nearby pointed out that social distancing really was something to take seriously, the first man shrugged: “You have to laugh or cry,” he said, suggesting the government’s message still wasn’t getting through to everybody.

It was Thursday morning, just before 8am, and I was making my first trip to a major supermarket since the lockdown was imposed. I had headed to the Sainsbury’s store at Colney Fields in the hope that it would be better stocked than other smaller locations, as I was also collecting goods for my housebound in-laws.

Cars had clustered around the supermarkets, the only shops open on the usually packed retail estate, veering away from shuttered clothing and homewear stores left abandoned on the other side.

A one-in, one-out queue had formed at the entrance to Marks & Spencer, where a row had broken out about whether this was one of the days where the first hour of shopping was allocated to elderly and vulnerable customers. There were no such delays getting into Sainsbury’s, so wearing surgical gloves and with a small pot of sanitiser in my pocket, I cautiously pushed my trolley inside.

An eerie hush permeated throughout the supermarket, punctuated only by the occasional loudspeaker announcement warning of restrictions to the number of products you were able to purchase at any one time, and giving thanks for helping to keep their colleagues safe.

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With many people’s features obscured behind facemasks, it seemed both impersonal and alien, lacking the familiar social interaction of your average shoppng trip.

For the most part, shoppers were observing the two metre rule, pausing to allow other customers to get past and not crowding around shelves.

But there were also those who seemed oblivious to the ongoing pandemic, and bustled down the aisles with reckless abandon, forcing other people to take drastic measures to avoid coming into close contact. Goods were grabbed and hoarded away like it was some sort of scavenger hunt, desperate eyes cast envious glances over other people’s trolleys, and some followed relentlessly in the wake of staff struggling to refill shelves. The dark side of human nature was reflected here, in stark contrast to the community spirit we are seeing elsewhere in society.

Despite fears of stockpiling, there was plenty of fresh fruit and veg, milk and other essentials, and it was only when you reached the tinned food, pasta and rice that products were either non-existent or in very short supply. Freezer cabinets had been stripped bare, there were only a few expensive bottles of wine remaining, and yet surprisingly toilet rolls were still available, albeit strictly rationed...

Long queues stretched away from the checkouts, as store staff patrolled to ensure there was a strict distance maintained between customers, but the self service points were largely free, as long as you didn’t mind paying for goods in batches if you had a trolley-load.

Climbing into my car after returning the trolley, I realised my heart was racing and my palms were sweaty. That had not been an enjoyable experience, and far removed from the usual trip to the supermarket.

With our cupboards and freezer restocked, but not to excess I hasten to add, it should be a few weeks before another supermarket journey is required.

But as we move further away from a social norm, with rules changing daily, whether such a trip will be permitted at that point is anyone’s guess.

Fortunately with our local pubs and restaurants developing new supply lines for the distribution of fresh food, maybe such a journey won’t be needed, and I for one wouldn’t complain if that was the case.