Japanese Convenience Stores Launch Plastic Guards, Queuing Spots to Fight COVID-19

Social distancing is (very) slowly starting to catch on in Japan.

By 3 min read

You may have noticed some slight changes in operations at your local Lawson, FamilyMart, and Seven-Eleven Japan in a bid to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.

One of the most striking changes is the introduction of clear plastic sheets hanging from the ceiling at registers to prevent droplet infection (a.k.a. spit transfer) between customers and employees.

The approach may help Japanese people better understand the concept of social distancing.

All three companies have also started marking distanced spots for customers to stand in as they queue to pay. This technique has been used by supermarkets and other stores overseas for some time but is still new to Japan. The approach may help Japanese people better understand the concept of social distancing, which has not been particularly emphasized here until now.

The measures at Japan’s big three convenience store chains were announced March 8, the day after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a state of emergency in greater Tokyo and other areas due to concern over a growing number of infections of COVID-19.

Stand at least two meters apart

Queue markers at Seven-Eleven.

While the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been pushing social distancing—advising people to keep at least two meters apart—the message in Japan has been more ambiguous.

In late-March, Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare recommended workers maintain a distance of one meter or more between themselves, and two meters or more when they talk. However, in government public-awareness posters, no distance is specified.  They only urge people to avoid the “three Cs”:

  • Closed spaces with poor ventilation
  • Crowded places with many people nearby
  • Close-range settings and conversations

Seven-Eleven Japan announced it has no set directive on how far apart the queue spaces need to be at its stores. The spacing depends on the size of the store and how crowded each shop gets at peak times because Seven-Eleven “wants to avoid inconveniencing customers.” In a press release on its coronavirus measures, photos show a distance of 120 centimeters between queue spaces.

Lawson is hanging posters in stores asking customers to carry out social distancing of one meter or more.

Limit use of eat-in areas

Customers practice social distancing at convenience store eat-in areas.

Seven-Eleven Japan is enacting social distancing at its eat-in counters by preventing the use of every second seat. At some FamilyMarts, however, the eat-in areas are completely closed. Additionally, FamilyMart is encouraging customers to use coin trays and avoid touching cashiers’ hands.

Other measures that convenience stores are taking to fight the virus follow the “three Cs” guidelines. Lawson will regularly open its front doors to ventilate the store while FamilyMart will, in principle, keep its doors open.

All three companies are having employees wear face masks, wash their hands, and take their temperatures before starting their shifts. Alcohol-based disinfectants are also being provided.

Pay with your cellphone or through self-checkout

Lawson is using some higher-grade technology to reduce contact between customers and employees. Sales registers at all of its stores can be switched over to self-checkout mode, which will be used more frequently during the coronavirus situation. Previously, this feature was restricted to limited hours at individual stores.

It will also increase the number of stores where customers can pay by smartphone, which requires no queuing or physical contact. Customers use their smartphone cameras to read product barcodes and can complete payment from anywhere in the store. This service is currently available at 120 branches out of more than 14,400 Lawson locations nationwide.

Convenience stores were not asked to close during the state of emergency since they provide food and daily goods.

Although these measures should help with the coronavirus crises, note that they may not be implemented at all Lawson, FamilyMart, and Seven-Eleven Japan locations.

Convenience stores were not asked to close during the state of emergency since they provide food and daily goods.

Have you noticed extra security measures at your local convenience stores or supermarkets? Let us know in the comments.

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