Waitrose has requested just one member of a household shop in the supermarket to help stem the coronavirus outbreak.
Shopping for “basic necessities” like food is one of the “very limited purposes” Britons are allowed out of their home amid the pandemic.
Boris Johnson has introduced draconian measures that enforce social distancing.
Anyone who develops the coronavirus’ tell-tale fever or cough must self-isolate entirely for seven days, while the rest of their household must do so for two weeks, not even popping out for essentials. In severe cases, the virus can cause the respiratory disease COVID-19.
Supermarket shopping is permitted for everyone else, with several high-street stores limiting the number of people in the building at any one time and building protective screens for check-out staff.
While no other supermarket is yet to echo Waitrose’s request, one expert called the move “common sense”.
The coronavirus is thought to have emerged at a seafood and live animal market in the Chinese city Wuhan at the end of last year.
It has since spread into more than 170 countries across every inhabited continent.
Latest coronavirus news, updates and advice
Since the outbreak was identified, more than 803,600 cases have been confirmed, of whom over 172,700 have “recovered”, according to John Hopkins University.
Cases have been plateauing in China since the end of February, with the US and Europe now the worst-hit areas.
The UK has had more than 22,400 confirmed cases and 1,789 deaths.
Globally, the death toll has exceeded 39,000.
Coronavirus: ‘common sense’ to have one family member do the shopping
“In line with the government’s guidance on social distancing we’re asking customers to help us manage the number of people in our shops by sending only one member of the household to do their shopping, if they possibly can,” said a Waitrose spokesperson.
“While this won’t be possible for everybody, we are very grateful for our customers’ support in this difficult situation.”
The government has not officially weighed in on who in the household should do the shopping, but has repeatedly stressed the importance of social distancing.
While socialising is as good as banned, people who live in the same household are permitted to spend time together, including leaving the house to exercise.
Professor Keith Neal from the University of Nottingham appears to support Waitrose’s request.
“Keeping the numbers of shoppers down increases inter-shopper separation,” he said.
“It is a simple common sense approach.”
While those with coronavirus symptoms should be self isolating, asymptomatic patients not experiencing a fever or cough do not know to stay indoors.
The number of asymptomatic patients has been debated.
On 3 March, the World Health Organization’s director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “Evidence from China is only 1% of reported cases do not have symptoms and most of those cases develop symptoms within two days”.
Scientists from the University of Hong Kong scientists later claimed 12.1% of patients do not develop a fever.
Supermarkets have been flagged as a potential hotspot for the coronavirus, with Boris Johnson urging the public to take advantage of food delivery services.
This may be easier said than done, with many customers complaining no slots are available for weeks.
“Let's assume asymptomatic patients are also spreaders,” Dr James Gill from Warwick Medical School previously said.
“If you go to the shops for a few items and encounter 30 people, which is reasonable in a big supermarket, you could potentially be exposed to people infected with the virus who are not showing signs.”
Professor Sally Bloomfield from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine added people may “pick up” the virus on their hands, before touching their eyes, nose or mouth – all entry points for the pathogen into the body.
“If you think about it, the supermarket provides an ideal setting for this to occur – many people touching and replacing items, checkout belts, cash cards, car park ticket machine buttons, ATM payment buttons, paper receipts – not to mention being in the proximity of several other people”, she said.
What is the coronavirus?
The coronavirus is one of seven strains of a virus class that are known to infect humans.
Others include the common cold and severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), which killed 774 people during its 2002/3 outbreak.
Symptoms tend to be flu-like, including fever, cough and slight breathlessness. Early research suggests four out of five cases are mild.
In severe incidences, pneumonia may come about if the infection spreads to the air sacs in the lungs, causing them to become inflamed and filled with fluid or pus.
The lungs then struggle to draw in air, resulting in reduced oxygen in the bloodstream and a build-up of carbon dioxide.
The coronavirus has no “set” treatment, with most patients naturally fighting off the infection.
Those requiring hospitalisation are offered “supportive care”, like ventilation, while their immune system gets to work.