Life Wellbeing A brush with death in aisle four: Social distancing in supermarkets
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A brush with death in aisle four: Social distancing in supermarkets

It's happening all over the world: People trying and failing to protect themselves from other shoppers. Photo: Getty
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The first time I was threatened with a beating around the legs with a ruler, I was six years old.

My crime? Losing my place in the line-up with the other kids in my class.

We were meant to keep a certain distance from one another, and bunching up for some reason was a floggable crime.

Indeed, somehow I’d bumped into the kid in front of me and went careening off to the side.

I was new to the school and suddenly, because everybody was now marching, I was unsure of which line was mine.

This seemed to make one of the teachers even more angry.

Thwack! Thwack! Thwack!

Poor little chap, right? Sure, I guess.

The real confession here is that I’m tempted to start carrying a ruler or a belt or even a feather duster and start giving a few people a flick around the knees because they’re potentially committing murder.

I’ve come to this conclusion with a cool head after seeing the constant, mindless flouting of social distancing.

It’s lovely all those congratulatory remarks from health officers and politicians, all that back-patting for doing our bit in bringing the virus under control.

What a charade.

Social distancing is such a joke that I’m half-thinking the virus is only fading because it’s actually become sick of us.

What self-respecting pathogen could be bothered with people – strangers – who all but rub up against one another wherever they meet.

Perhaps this sounds demented to you. One question, then: Have you been to the supermarket lately?

A ruler, a belt or a massive wooden spoon would do. Photo: Getty

I refuse to go in there. I’d rather take my chances with the SAS live-round shooting house that candidates have to navigate and survive before they get the special badge pinned to their berets.

In the supermarket, there are no chances. The basic layout is designed to facilitate, as a matter of innocent course, frottage among the fromage. Those aisles are simply too squeezy.

You will get your so-called safety circle 1.5 metre perimeter breached. Which is why supermarkets are often promoted as a creepy way to meet women.

Some supermarkets have put one-way signs on their aisles. The floor is decorated with pairs of feet headed in the correct direction.

But such is the excitement to be part of a crowd again, these traffic directions go unnoticed.

Another layout problem: The DIY checkouts are erected cheek to jowl.

woolworths-screens-supplied
Woolworths has installed protective transparent screens at its manned checkouts.

A colleague of mine told a supermarket worker that the self-service checkouts made social distancing impossible.

Shouldn’t every second one be closed, creating a safe space? She was told: “We close down every second checkout in the quiet times. If we do it when it’s busy, we end up with people lined up outside the door. And they don’t practise social distancing anyway.”

The great absurdity is this – depending on which state you’re in, no more than 10 people can gather inside a cafe, and even then they’re meant to keep their distance from one another.

The cafe workers are meant to follow strict cleaning protocols that are meant to match the rhythm of in and out traffic.

At the supermarket, as far as I can see, there is no one counting numbers. It’s all very lax and delightfully Australian.

But the biggest problem? The shoppers themselves.

We stroll along in the same dazed fashion, occupied with our own thoughts and not even looking at who is in front of us.

Some people try and be considerate and step to the side: They may as well be in India or Nepal, obediently making way for cows in traffic.

The cows don’t care and they don’t say thank you. The cows just go where they want to go.

This is how we’re behaving. Worse really.

And a good thwack may do no good at all. But dear God I’d like to give it a try.