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The Battle of COVID: The story of a retail worker during a pandemic

By Jamie Heron

“Everyone has always thought that working in a supermarket is a rubbish job and now we’re superheroes. Without a doubt, we’ll be back to the bottom of the priority list soon.”

For retail keyworker Sue Heron, 47, being thrown into the frontline in a global pandemic has touched her in more ways than just the temporary change in status. She began to have symptoms of the virus herself late last month, and although never tested, she was told verbally that she did indeed have the virus.

“It’s not too stressful but everyone in the shop feels at risk. We do have protection, we’ve had hand sanitizers at every till and around the store since last month but in the past week or so we’ve been granted permission to wear gloves and masks during work. Only around 50 people are allowed in the store at a time, but groups of people are still being let in together.”

Sue believes that stricter government guidelines should be implemented to stop the public from going shopping together in groups unless completely necessary. “I think the government should stop more than one person coming into the shop at a time in terms of families and stuff, they need stricter rules for everyone’s protection.”

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Sue first started showing symptoms of coronavirus during a week’s holiday visiting her mum and daughter in her birthplace Liverpool last month.

Upon returning home she called the NHS advice helpline 111 and was instructed to call for an ambulance, where she was verbally told, without a test, that she likely had the virus. It’s very likely that Sue did have the virus, but testing kits were not widely accessible at the time.

“When I first told my work that I had the virus they shot 1000 questions at me and made me fill out a survey,” she explains.” I told them that I had been to the hospital and had been advised to stay off work for two weeks, but my store manager told me I should only have one week. It put me under a lot of pressure I was worrying about my own safety as well as my colleagues and the customers, but in the end, I got two weeks off.”

“Isolation is really hard,” Sue goes on. “Being by myself 24-hours a day for two weeks was very tough. Illness aside I was very bored, all the time. I read, played games, and watched movies to pass the time. My husband even had to sleep in a different bed!”

“I think it’s quite unfair that retail workers haven’t been key workers until now. People shop all year round and we’re always there but usually ignored.”

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Sue welcomes the weekly #clapforcarers showing support for the NHS and key workers. But she’s realistic about how long that might last. “I appreciate the support that the nation is giving but I can’t help but feel that it’s not going to last in the long run,” she admits. “As soon as people’s lives return to normal and they can work on autopilot, we’ll all notice how visually ungrateful everyone really is.”

Following a two-week period of self-isolation, Sue has now returned to work, on the very frontline against the pasta and toilet roll-hogging masses.

“I’m back in work now after isolating and recovering, the shelves are slowly getting fuller, and queues are slowly getting smaller!”

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