Empty shelves of tissues are seen at Woolworths Town Hall in Sydney, Friday, March 13, 2020. AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi)
Seniors and pension card holders have made the most of a dedicated shopping hour set up at major supermarkets in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The initiative was started by the major supermarket groups to help seniors who have been disadvantaged by panic buying as a result of the coronavirus.
People with government-issued concession cards on Tuesday flocked to Woolworths supermarkets for the dedicated shopping hour which runs nationally from 7am to 8am on weekdays.
The stores open to everyone else after 8am.
"This temporary measure will give them, and those with a disability, the opportunity to shop before our stores officially open - helping them obtain the essential items they need most in a less-crowded environment," Managing Director Claire Peters said.
Panic buying in recent weeks sparked by the spread of COVID-19 in Australia has seen supermarkets stripped of toilet paper, pasta, rice, frozen food as well as tinned and other dried goods.
The issue has caused stress and frustration amongst 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.
Woolworths fresh food director Paul Harker said the initiative had proved very popular on Tuesday morning.
He insists there is no shortage of goods despite reports of widespread food shortages.
"There is no shortage of goods here in Australia," he told the Nine Network on Tuesday.
"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 the exclusive shopping hour for seniors and pension card holders will be reviewed later this week to determine how it can best be managed.
The Coles shopping hour will start on Wednesday, when its stores also open at 7am for customers holding a government-issued Pensioner Concession Card, Commonwealth Seniors Health Card, Companion Card and Health Care Card.
Coles is also seeking more than 5000 casual workers to help restock its supermarkets faster under a fast-tracked induction process and will hire more Coles Online delivery van drivers.
It also plans to dedicate grocery deliveries to people who are isolated and vulnerable. This means deliveries for other customers will be temporarily suspended, as will the Click&Collect service.
"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 national supermarket chain IGA is considering whether to roll out a similar pensioners-and-seniors-only shopping hour across its 1300 Australian stores.
The idea is being trialled at an IGA in Melbourne's Altona, with a shopping hour between 6am to 7am, which could be extended across its network if successful.
IGA Chief Executive Fred Harrison said on Monday a final decision would be made by Wednesday.
© AAP 2020