Coronavirus: UAE ministry says supermarkets and pharmacies can stay open all day, every day

Stores cannot be at more than 30 per cent capacity at one any time to help with social distancing

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Supermarkets and pharmacies in the UAE will be allowed to remain open for 24 hours, 7 days a week, for the length of the coronavirus outbreak.

The authorities said keeping grocers, supermarkets and pharmacies open around the clock will allow shoppers to avoid crowds.

Retailers must limit the number of people who can enter at any one time to 30 per cent of total capacity.

Spinneys said it would have ushers or security at store entrances to limit numbers and ensure shoppers are spread out. Several chains said they were still to decide on operating hours or already have stores open around the clock.

Customers should be kept at least two metres apart and staff should limit their distance where possible.

Warwick Gird, marketing manager at Spinneys, said the chain already has three stores open 24/7 at Dubai Trade Centre, King Faisal in Sharjah and Khalidiya in Abu Dhabi.

The rest of the country's 50-plus Spinneys and 11 Waitrose stores will keep normal hours for now, he said.

Staff would be on hand to ensure groups of shoppers do not build up.

“We will follow best practices that we have seen globally, where there is an usher at the door to make sure that only 30 per cent enter," he said.

"Those who were open 24 hours will continue to be, and the rest of stores will stay as per normal hours,"

On Wednesday, malls and retailers across the country closed for two weeks. Mall entrances will remain open to allow access to supermarkets only.

The UAE has introduced a raft of measures to stop the spread of the virus. Public gatherings of any kind have been banned and people have been asked not to leave their home unless absolutely necessary.

Our outpatient pharmacy has introduced a home medication delivery service, that allows patients to receive their prescriptions and medication refills in the comfort of their own home

The total number of confirmed cases in the UAE stood at 333 as of Wednesday, March 25.

V Nandakumar, chief of communication at Lulu Group, which runs more than a dozen supermarkets and several malls, said the situation is under review.

"There has been absolutely no challenges with regards to customers coming in, a rush or a panic situation. What we see right now is a fewer number of people coming," he said.

“However, if there is a demand and need to open 24 hours, we are fully equipped and ready to do so.”

The tendency to bring the whole family shopping has dropped off significantly and fewer customers have brought their children recently.

“So the number of people in the store has already come down," he said.

A spokesman for Carrefour said they have not made a decision regarding around the clock operations.

“We are studying how we want to do it, so maybe by the end of the day or tomorrow we will have something," he said.

In Oman's main Carrefour store in Muscat, a notice was placed at entrances stating that only one person per family would be allowed in - and no children. The spokesman said there was no such restrictions in Emirati stores.

On Wednesday, Aysha Al Dhaheri, head of health promotion at Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre, told The National the government is helping pharmacies to ensure they are equipped for home deliveries.

And Osama Tabbara, head of pharmacy services at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, said the hospital already operates its dispensary 24 hours per day, but has taken “great steps to encourage patients to stay at home as much as possible".

“Our outpatient pharmacy has introduced a home medication delivery service, that allows patients to receive their prescriptions and medication refills in the comfort of their own home.

“If a patient is receiving medication for the first time, they will receive a call from a pharmacist following delivery to educate them on how to take it safely and answer any questions the patient might have.

“All medications are available through the service, with the exception of controlled and narcotic substances.”