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How to shop during the coronavirus pandemic


Woman grocery shopping

With plenty of talk around social distancing and panic buying, we break down how you can shop responsibly during the COVID-19 outbreak.

With rising concerns around the current COVID-19 pandemic, many consumers are uncertain about how to approach shopping for essential items over the next few weeks. With media reports of panic buying and Australian government recommendations to begin social distancing practices remaining front of mind, we look at how you can shop safely and responsibly at this time.

What kinds of products are hard to come by?

With many preparing for the possibility of a 14-day quarantine, supermarkets and grocery stores are seeing dwindling supplies of long shelf-life products such as pasta and rice. Other home staples such as toilet paper, paper towel, hand sanitiser and cleaning wipes are also being consistently bought out.

Before you run out and stock up though, it's important to remember these things:

  • Australia is not about to run out of food (or toilet paper). According to chief executive of the Logistics Bureau, Rob O'Byrne, around 90% of the products in "our grocery stores (are) locally made anyway". This means that supply chains have currently not been disrupted and that any current product shortages are simply due to overbuying by consumers.
  • The pandemic does not mean that you won't be able to get your hands on other food items. Power will not be shut off, which means that both fresh and frozen food products will still be available to buy.

What are retailers doing to help shoppers at this time?

To help put a stop to the panic buying that is leaving many shoppers vulnerable, some stores have now implemented new shopping rules.


  • Coles customers will now be limited to one pack of toilet paper and two packs each of pasta, flour, rice, paper towels, paper tissues and hand sanitiser per shop. There are also now other product limitations in place which you can view on the Coles COVID-19 updates page.
  • Coles supermarkets will now close no later than 8pm to give workers a chance to restock shelves and clean stores.
  • From Thursday 26 March, the first hour of trade on Tuesdays and Thursdays will be for emergency services and healthcare workers who hold an AHPRA card, have a workplace ID or are wearing their work uniform.
  • The first hour of trade on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays will be dedicated to the vulnerable and elderly (see "How can those who are elderly or disabled shop during this time?" section below).
  • Coles will also be recruiting 5,000 more casual team members to help replenish stock faster.


  • Woolworths shoppers will be limited to one pack of toilet paper, baby wipes, antibacterial wipes, paper towel, serviettes and rice (2kgs and over). For more product limitation updates, you can see the Woolworths product limit page.
  • All Woolworths supermarkets will implement a 'community hour' from 7-8am. During this time, stores will be open exclusively to the elderly and those with disabilities (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays) and to emergency services and healthcare workers (Tuesdays and Thursdays).
  • Woolworths will no longer be accepting change-of-mind refunds or exchanges on high-demand items like toilet paper, rice, pasta and tissues.
  • Stores will be hiring more staff and will be closing all of its stores early from Wednesday 18 March to give workers a chance to properly restock shelves.
  • In collaboration with Auspost and DHL, it will be delivering 'Basics Boxes' to elderly Australians and those stuck in isolation. These boxes will cost $80 and will include meals, snacks and other essential items.


  • Aldi customers will be limited to one pack of toilet paper and two units each of dry pasta, flour, dry rice, paper towels, tissues and hand sanitiser.
  • The supermarket has also changed its opening hours to 9.30am-7pm to give workers a chance to restock.

How should you be shopping during the pandemic?

While panic buying is neither necessary nor encouraged, it is a good idea to have enough provisions to last you through a potential 14-day quarantine period. This could mean buying a few extra items each time you shop and cooking and freezing meals in advance, in case you become ill at a later time.

As social distancing measures are now being encouraged, it can also be a good idea to shop online where you can. While Woolworths and Coles are struggling to meet online order demand and have now temporarily suspended online orders and click-and-collect, other retailers such as Amazon Australia, eBay and Catch have plenty of non-perishable items in stock and are continuing to deliver.

If you do need to shop in-store, you can try googling your local supermarket to see which hours are the quietest and aim to shop then. It's also a good idea to wipe down trolley and basket handles with disinfectant wipes before using them if you can.

How can those who are elderly or disabled shop during this time?

Woolworths has now implemented a dedicated shopping hour to support the needs of the elderly and the disabled. From 7-8am every day, physical Woolworths stores will be open exclusively to those in need to ensure that they are not left without essential items.

As of Thursday 19 March, Woolworths will also be offering elderly people and vulnerable Australians the opportunity to pick up "care packages" filled with essential items. Both the early opening and care packages can be accessed by people with a government concession card.

A 'Basic Box' filled with meals and essentials will also now be available for delivery for those who are unable to get to physical Woolworths stores.

Coles has also introduced a Community Hour for the elderly and vulnerable for the first hour of trade on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Customers will need to hold a government-issued Pensioner Concession Card, Commonwealth Seniors Health Card, Companion Card, Seniors Card, Disability Card or Health Care Card.

If you are unable to get to your nearest store, you can also shop online or ask a friend or family member for help.

How can those with COVID-19 shop?

If you have contracted COVID-19, NSW Health recommends either shopping online or asking a friend or family member who is not in isolation to deliver groceries and medication to your home. It also advises in both of these scenarios that you "wear a mask when receiving a delivery or have the groceries left at your door" to prevent infecting other people.

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