Adjusting to the new normal

Chief Inspector Steve Radford with ColesManager Jane Barton and Senior Constable Dean Lambie show how the appropriate social distance can be measured with an outstretched arm or a shopping trolley.

The Snowy Valleys appear to be adjusting to the new ‘pandemic normal’, with new changes, like the presence of police in supermarkets and the first round of government stimulus payments, only making a ripple. Even grocery store shelves are slowly looking full again.

The first round of government stimulus payments aimed at staving off a coronavirus-recession hit bank accounts last Thursday, with roughly 6.5 million Australians receiving the $750 boost. Coles Manager Jane Barton said there wasn’t a visible increase in shoppers that day. 

“It’s been a pretty good day,” she said.

The $17.6 billion package was sent to Australians who were already receiving some type of welfare support, such as the Age Pension, Carer Payment, Disability Support Pension, Austudy, Youth Allowance or Newstart Allowance.

 “We’re gradually easing back into normality,” said Jane, pleased that panic buying seems to have calmed down.

“Our meat’s all back to normal. It was just due to the panic buying in the first few days [that it got low]. Dairy is actually pretty good”

Jane said toilet paper, paper towel and hand sanitiser are still coming in “inconsistently” and being bought quickly, but there are signs that demand is going down and the supply chain is starting to catch up.

“We’re not back to normal, but we’re on our way,” she said. 

“We don’t know what Easter will hold. We’re suspecting it will be a quieter Easter due to people not being able to go to the dam and the caravan park closed, but we’ll still have a beautiful display of seafood and hot cross buns!”

The biggest change for Coles this week has been the presence of police, warning shoppers that there will be fines for anyone standing closer than 1.5 metres to another person.

“Police are patrolling our premises and they will fine anyone that’s not 1.5 metres away, our customers included,” said Jane. “We had them in last night.”

Jane said the fines would apply to Coles staff if they were too close to each other, and customers would be liable for the fines if they were breaking the distancing rules. 

“It’s a pretty big one that one,” she said.

Tumut Police Chief Inspector Steve Radford said that while police are taking the social distancing rules seriously, they also recognise the difficulty of keeping space when moving through confined areas like a supermarket aisle. He pointed to the NSW Health guidelines, which also give some allowances for people who are physically unable to maintain 1.5 metres of space in the course of their necessary work.

Over at Murray Glen Village, the police presence was slightly different, according to Village Manager Michelle Boyd.

“Police called in to check on [the residents],” said Michelle, encouraged that the local boys in blue had offered their help to take care of the community’s over 55s.

“Some of that good we saw from the fires is coming out, I think,” she said. “At the beginning with the panic buying it was a bit disgusting, but I think it’s good now.”

Michelle said residents in the independent living community were “taking it pretty seriously” and abiding by Covid-19 social distancing rules.

“They’re keeping an eye on each other without breaking any of the rules,” she said. “It’s a good little community there.”

Residents were staying in touch, sitting on their verandahs and having conversations with people walking past, keeping the appropriate 1.5 metre gap. Michelle said so far none of the residents have shown any signs of having the virus, but all communal areas were closed down and all activities have been stopped.

In order to do grocery shopping, the over 55s have been getting up early to take advantage of grocery shops’ ‘community hour’ on weekdays from 7-8am. 

“That’s been a bit of a change for some of them,” said Michelle, noting that some residents still haven’t been able to buy toilet paper since the crisis began.

“Which is ridiculous,” said Michelle, “But they’re making do with what they’ve got. Now, they’re starting to get concerned, because they will be very, very short soon.”