Shopping during COVID-19


The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has had a big impact on how we live our daily lives. The current public measures aim to minimise the spread of the virus. At present, people are urged to stay at home wherever possible.

You can leave your home to shop for essential food and household items. However, it is important that you keep to Government guidelines on physical distancing and handwashing and respiratory hygiene. Government advice is clear that there is no need to stockpile or bulk buy items and that supply chains will continue to function as normal.

This document gives practical information and advice on how to shop safely during the COVID-19 pandemic. It includes information on:

  • How to plan your shopping to avoid unnecessary journeys
  • Hand sanitation and physical distancing in supermarkets
  • Services available to support older and vulnerable people who must stay at home and ‘cocoon’

Planning your shopping

Since Monday 18 May 2020, the following shops are allowed to reopen:

  • Hardware shops
  • Builders merchants
  • Garden centres
  • Farmers markets
  • Opticians, optometrists and shops that provide hearing tests and hearing aids
  • Car and motorcycle dealers, and related services (repairs and parts)
  • Bicycle shops and repairs
  • Office suppliers, phone and IT suppliers and repair and maintenance services for homes (not including homeware stores)

Supermarkets have been designated “high-risk” sites of infection during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Irish Global Health Network (IGHN) has advised that you should reduce the frequency of your shopping trips to minimise your risk of exposure to the virus.

Before you go shopping, you should ask yourself:

  • Am I well enough to go shopping?

    If you are feeling ill, you must not go out. You need to self-isolate and other people you live with need to restrict their movements. Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. Your GP will assess you over the phone. If they think you need to be tested for COVID-19, they will arrange a test. The Health Service Executive (HSE) also has information on minding your mental health during the pandemic.

  • Am I potentially vulnerable, and if so, could I ask someone else to shop for me?

    The Government has published a list of people who should stay at home and isolate, or ‘cocoon’, to protect themselves from COVID-19. This includes everyone aged 70 years or over, even if they are fit and well, and those deemed highly medically vulnerable to COVID-19. If you are advised to cocoon, you must stay at home and make alternative arrangements to get your food and medical supplies. From 5 May 2020, if you are cocooning you can leave your home for exercise or for a drive, but you should continue to avoid contact with other people.

  • Do I need to shop today?

    Make an inventory of what items you have at home and plan your meals according to when they go out of date. This will help you avoid wasting food and making unnecessary trips to the supermarket. It is recommended that, where possible, you limit shopping trips to once a week to reduce your risk of getting the virus or spreading it to others.

  • Have I planned my shopping?

    Before you go shopping, you should make a list of what you need to buy and make sure you have enough food to last until your next planned shop. RTE have published useful advice on how to plan your shopping during the COVID-19 pandemic. Use your freezer to store shorter life, perishable items such as bread and meats. Non-perishable foods, such as canned food, rice, pasta and dried fruit, have a long shelf life and don't need refrigeration to keep them from spoiling.

  • Can I go to quieter local shops or arrange with local shops for collection or deliveries?

    Many retailers, such as SuperValu, Centra, Dunnes Stores, Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Aldi and Lidl, now operate priority shopping times for elderly and vulnerable customers to reduce their risk of exposure to the virus. These special hours are usually in the morning but you should check with your local store. There may also be special arrangements for health care workers.

  • Could I shop online?

    Many supermarkets provide the option to do your shopping online to be delivered direct to your door or collected at a designated collection point. However, if you are fit and well, it is recommended that you travel to a local retailer to collect your online shopping to ensure that home delivery slots are available to those who need them most.

How to shop safely

You should try to shop in stores that have introduced precautionary measures to limit the spread of COVID-19. Things to look out for include:

  • Staff controlling the entry and exit of customers to limit overcrowding
  • Facilities available to clean and sanitise trolleys and baskets between use
  • Provision of hand sanitisers (with a minimum alcohol content of 60+%) at entrances and exits
  • Clear marking on floors to help customers keep to physical distancing measures
  • Posters and public address systems reminding customers and staff to keep to physical distancing measures
  • Staff practicing social distancing on the shop floor
  • Staff cleaning critical contact areas such as screens on self-service checkouts and debit card PIN pads
  • Baked foods (such as bread, croissants, scones) covered to protect from sneezes and coughs
  • Sneeze shields in place to protect staff at service counters and checkouts
  • Customers being encouraged to use contactless payment rather than cash
  • Separate shopping times for vulnerable people, such as the elderly
  • Depending on the layout of the supermarket, facilitating a one-way system for shoppers (as many supermarket aisles do not allow for social distancing measures)

Safefood has published useful guidance on how to shop safely for groceries during the COVID-19 emergency period. While shopping you should:

  • Take your own shopping bags and, if possible, put items directly into the bags and avoid contact with baskets or trolleys.
  • Sanitise your hands when you enter the store, ideally with your own sanitiser or, if available, that provided by the store. Avoid contact with surfaces as much as possible.
  • If using a basket or trolley to shop, sanitise its handle. It is not recommended that you wear disposable gloves as they can give you a false sense of security and your hands can get contaminated when you take them off.
  • Try to use your non-dominant hand to pick goods up and avoid touching your mouth, nose or eyes. Most people are far more likely to touch their face with their dominant hand.
  • Keep a safe physical distance of 2 metres from all other shoppers and staff – this includes routes into and out of the store. If someone encroaches on your space, calmly and politely remind them of physical distancing requirements.
  • Avoid lingering in the shop for any longer than necessary by stopping to chat with staff and fellow shoppers
  • Avoid shopping in groups and, where possible, you should avoid taking your children to the shop.
  • Make a contactless payment (if possible). The contactless payment limit has increased from €30 to €50 with effect from 1 April 2020.
  • Sanitise your hands on leaving the shop (if possible) and again when you get into your car (if travelling by car).

Upon arriving home from the shop, you should:

  • Immediately wash your hands.
  • Put your shopping away as normal. You should always put away your shopping as soon as you get home, especially perishable foods which must be stored in the fridge or freezer.
  • It is not necessary to sanitise the outside of food packaging. While there is some evidence that the virus can survive on hard surfaces, the risk from handling food packing is very low and there is no evidence that the illness can be transmitted in this way.
  • Wash your hands again after you have put your shopping bags away. It is not essential to sanitise surfaces or shopping bags, but if you do, follow the manufacturer’s instructions about how much time is needed before wiping the sanitiser off.

Shopping for older and vulnerable people

You can support family members, friends and neighbours who are advised to cocoon by shopping on their behalf. If you suspect a friend, relative or member of your local community needs help getting essential food and household items, you should get in touch to see how you can support them.

If you are shopping for a vulnerable person you should leave the shopping on the doorstep, ring the bell or phone them and stand back while they collect it.

Bank of Ireland has introduced a new “Cocooning Support” service to help customers who are cocooning or self-isolating to access cash. Under this scheme, if you are cocooning you can nominate another person to make in-branch cash withdrawals and lodgements on your behalf.

You can read more about Community support services during COVID-19.

You can find out more about local services through the Alone National Helpline. You can contact ALONE seven days a week from 8am–8pm on 0818222024.

You can get more information and advice in our documents on Cocooning during COVID-19 and Older people and COVID-19.

Page edited: 16 May 2020