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Shoppers lineup outside a Loblaws grocery store at Lakeshore Blvd and Leslie St in Toronto Friday afternoon. Employees counted the customers as they entered and exited to keep the number of shoppers low to allow for social distancing space amid the COVID-19 pandemic. March 20, 2020Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail

Loblaw Companies Ltd. and Metro Inc. have both announced they are installing plexiglass screens at its checkout counters, as grocery companies seek to reassure staff of their safety while remaining open to provide essential products to customers.

The announcements were made one day after Sobeys parent company Empire Co. Ltd. said it had ordered thousands of screens to install in its grocery banners, including Sobeys, Safeway, IGA, Foodland and FreshCo, as well as some of its pharmacies, convenience stores, gas stations and liquor stores. Metro owns namesake stores as well as Super C, Food Basics and others.

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Loblaw owns grocery banners including No Frills, Loblaws, Real Canadian Superstore, Valu-Mart, and Provigo. The screens were another measure after the company announced that some of its busiest stores would close every other checkout lane, in order to provide customers more space.

While stating their commitment to remain open, grocers have been asking shoppers to practice social distancing when visiting the stores. Along with the screens, Empire said it would begin placing stickers on the floor leading up to its checkouts to indicate two metres of space customers should leave between each other while in line. A number of stores, including Loblaw and Metro, have begun restricting the number of customers allowed inside at one time, and outside of some stores owned by Metro markers on the ground indicate the distance people should give one another while waiting to enter.

Many stores have also shortened their opening hours to provide more time for cleaning, and to take pressure off overworked staff. And a number of stores have also provided a dedicated hour each morning at opening for people who are older or otherwise vulnerable, to shop at a time with lower crowds.

Metro and Loblaw also announced they would raise wages for employees in their stores and distribution centres. Metro said staff would be paid an extra $2 per hour, for any time worked between March 8 and May 2, and Loblaw said staff would received a 15-per-cent bonus, also retroactive to March 8.

In Saturday’s letter, Loblaw executive chairman Galen Weston said the company is also attempting to source medical grade masks, hand sanitizer, and gloves to provide its staff with more protection, though these items have been in short supply.

“We are making progress and are sending them directly to stores as we get them,” he wrote. “But, for a little while longer supply will be inconsistent.”

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