Supermarket tension has reached crisis point as a Woolworths supermarket staffer was stabbed and dozens of angry, elderly shoppers left empty-handed during a dedicated “community hour”.
Police said an employee, 37, was collecting trolleys in the supermarket carpark when he was approached by an unknown man and allegedly stabbed to the lower body on Tuesday afternoon.
He was airlifted to a Melbourne hospital from Rosebud with stab wounds in a serious but stable condition. Police arrested a 25-year-old Rosebud man a short time later.
A Victoria Police spokesperson said the incident was not in relation to “panic buying’ in supermarkets.
General Manager Woolworths Supermarkets Victoria, John Di Tirro, said their thoughts were with the injured man.
“Our thoughts are with our team member and his loved ones at this difficult time and we’ll be offering them our full support,” he said in a statement.
Meanwhile, as thousands queued outside Woolworths supermarkets on Tuesday morning for a dedicated hour of shopping running nationally between 7am and 8am, many were left disappointed and without the grocery items they needed most.
“It’s day one of our dedicated shopping hour and we know it wasn’t perfect across all of our stores,” Woolworths Managing Director Claire Peters said in a statement.
Former Radio 3AW journalist Ron Bourke said hundreds were queued when doors opened at Woolworths in Sunshine, in Melbourne’s west.
“There’s a big crowd here, about 200 people,” he told 3AW’s Ross and John.
“It’s getting slightly aggressive at the moment because security has just come out and told everyone to move back a bit as they can’t open the doors.
“Just a little while ago there was quite a bit of verbal argument with people coming in from the side and trying to push into the queue.”
Scenes of elderly residents arriving before dawn in taxis, community buses and being dropped off by relatives, many with walking frames and short scribbled shopping lists, will now be the norm as the global coronavirus pandemic rages.
“We are the most vulnerable, people over 65, so we need to be careful,” one grateful senior told the ABC.
Woolworths fresh food director Paul Harker said the initiative had proved popular on Tuesday morning but agreed there were still shortages of toilet paper and pasta.
“Our supply chains are working 24/7 to make sure they get product to our stores,” he said.
He insisted there was no shortage of goods, despite reports of widespread products shortfalls.
“There is no shortage of goods here in Australia,” he told the Nine Network on Tuesday.
The duplicate so-called “community hour” at rival Coles will begin on Wednesday, which has also further limited shoppers’ purchases. It will restrict shoppers to two packets each of eggs, chilled pasta, frozen vegetables and frozen dessert.
Coles’ latest move comes amid reports worried consumers are stockpiling vast loads of freezer goods, including meat. There are also anecdotal reports of city shoppers hiring buses to drive to rural supermarkets to clear their shelves of food.
Coles is also seeking more than 5000 casual workers to help keep its shops stocked. It will also hire more drivers for online deliveries.
The supermarkets started the dedicated shopping hour for the elderly and vulnerable to help those who have been disadvantaged by panic buying as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
Supermarkets at both chains open to everyone else after 8am. They are also closing earlier than normal to allow shelves to be properly restocked.
Australia’s chief medical officer Professor Brendan Murphy told Sydney Radio 2GB on Tuesday that the ongoing frenzied buying was “just stupid”.
“The chances of any given Australian citizen suddenly being asked to quarantine are pretty low,” he said.
“This panic buying is just stupid and I really encourage Australians to take a deep breath and buy what you need.”
Supermarkets across the country have been stripped of toilet paper, hand sanitiser, pasta, rice and frozen food, and tinned and other dried goods in recent weeks in a wave of panic buying.
The issue has been stressful and frustrating for elderly shoppers, many of whom find it difficult to make frequent visits to supermarkets for essential goods. In many cases, particularly for toilet paper, the shelves are often stripped bare.
Mr Harker said the supermarkets had taken a huge hit on demand.
“It is a logistics exercise of moving the product to get it back into stores with the pace and demand we’re seeing,” he said.
He said the exclusive shopping hour would be reviewed later this week to determine how it could best be managed.
Meanwhile, Coles has also said it will close online delivery to all but people who are isolated and vulnerable. Both supermarket giants have suspended their click and collect services.
“We believe all Australians deserve the right to access their share of grocery items, particularly the elderly and the vulnerable,” Coles CEO Steven Cain said.
Meanwhile, the smaller supermarket chain IGA is considering whether to roll out a similar pensioners-and-seniors-only shopping hour across its 1300 Australian stores.
Many IGA supermarkets operate in smaller communities with a significant proportion of elderly residents. Its outlets have reported the same run on consumer products.
The idea is being trialled at an IGA in Melbourne’s Altona. It is offering dedicated shopping from 6am to 7am, which could be extended across the country if successful.
IGA chief executive Fred Harrison said a final decision would be made by Wednesday.