Supermarkets are high-risk sites of infection for Covid-19 because of a disregard of hygiene standards, a group of health, environmental and development professionals has claimed.

"Despite some supermarkets exercising caution with standards improving in recent days, the inconsistency in upholding standards is worrying," the Irish Global Health Network said in a statement as it published guidelines for shoppers to help reduce the spread of Covid-19.

The guidelines set out a number of protocols to help the public protect themselves before, during and after shopping to help reduce the incidence of the highly infectious disease.

The guidelines are set out in a four-page booklet "A quick guide to safe shopping during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic".

Guidelines include using the non-dominant hand to pick up goods, which subsequently reduces the cross-contamination risk from touching of the mouth, nose or eyes; making contactless payments and avoiding contact with surfaces of any kind.

The guidelines state that because the "Coronavirus can survive on hard surfaces" that shoppers should "wipe the outside of all canned/hard surface pack goods (tetra packs) with a paper towel/warm soapy water" or "alternatively leave non-perishable foods in a safe place for 72-hours".

The guidelines also suggest that because of the capacity of the virus to live on surfaces, shopping trolleys, baskets, pin pads, they and other regularly touched items should be sanitised after each use.

Environmental Health Specialist and Irish Global Health Network Spokesperson, Niall Roche said: "We know that the virus can survive on hard surfaces such as plastic and stainless steel for up to 72 hours.

"It can live on cardboard for up to 24 hours. Supermarkets should adhere to the same guidance and practices that are being exercised in healthcare facilities, particularly for vulnerable shoppers."

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Mr Roche told RTÉ's Morning Ireland: "One of the purposes of these guidelines is not to create anxiety in the general public.

"But, it is to give us very simple, practical, non-technical guidance about what we can practically do to minimise our risk to ourselves as individuals.

"What we can do to minimise the risk for other shoppers and also, critically, to minimise the risk to those front line staff who are working in these shops."

The guide was published in partnership with the Environmental Health Association of Ireland and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health in the UK.

The Irish Global Health Network is an independent network of health and development professional from different backgrounds, sectors and disciplines.

It said it is concerned with health inequities and issues that affect the health and development of populations at a global level.

It has also called for more detailed guidance, comprehensive practice by supermarkets and oversight by relevant authorities to ensure both staff and the public are protected.

"The lack of clear controls on the numbers of people entering the store, the exposure of baked goods and fresh produce, along with the lack of facilities for hand washing are posing a severe threat to shoppers," it added.

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Retail Ireland said supermarkets had made enormous efforts to make shopping safer for their customers and staff.

"Social distancing measures are being enforced across the sector with limits on the amounts of people are entering the store," said Arnold Dillon, Director of Retail Ireland, told the same programme.

"[There are] a whole new range of signs and floor markings to encourage customers to keep the two-metre distancing.

"At checkouts stores have installed Perspex screens. Retailers have increased the frequency of their cleaning of the stores, of the trolleys, baskets and also of chip and pin terminals.

"Retailers are continuing to follow the advice of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, who have advised that there is no evidence to date of Covid-19 transmission through food."

Dylan H Morris, a graduate student in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University in the United States, told Morning Ireland that wiping down shopping is a decision based on people's personal view of risk.

"I would encourage people to do whatever makes them feel most comfortable," said Mr Morris.

"It is a question of risk reduction. None of us can eliminate all the risk in our lives. If you have been out in public and you wash your hands. Or, if you have unwrapped something that was recently touched by someone else then wash your hands again. It will reduce risk a bit."

Mr Morris's research on how long Covid-19 can potentially live on surfaces, including steel, plastic, copper and cardboard, was published in the New England Journal of Science.

It says the virus that causes Covid-19 remains for several hours to days on surfaces and in aerosols.

The virus is detectable for up to three hours in aerosols, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.