Assessing risk in the retail environment during the COVID-19 pandemic

C. Budd*, K. Calvert, S. Johnson, S. O. Tickle

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Downloads (Pure)


The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented disruption, particularly in retail. Where essential demand cannot be fulfilled online, or where more stringent measures have been relaxed, customers must visit shop premises in person. This naturally gives rise to some risk of susceptible individuals (customers or staff) becoming infected. It is essential to minimize this risk as far as possible while retaining economic viability of the shop. We therefore explore and compare the spread of COVID-19 in different shopping situations involving person-to-person interactions: (i) free-flowing, unstructured shopping; (ii) structured shopping (e.g. a queue). We examine which of (i) or (ii) may be preferable for minimizing the spread of COVID-19 in a given shop, subject to constraints such as the geometry of the shop; compliance of the population to local guidelines; and additional safety measures which may be available to the organizers of the shop. We derive a series of conclusions, such as unidirectional free movement being preferable to bidirectional shopping, and that the number of servers should be maximized as long as they can be well protected from infection.

Original languageEnglish
Article number210344
Number of pages17
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Data accessibility. This article has no additional data. Competing interests. We declare we have no competing interests. Funding. This work arose initially from the discussions at a Virtual Study Group (VSG) 29–30 April 2020, on Guiding principles for unlocking the workforce. The VSG was organized by the Virtual Forum for Knowledge Exchange in the Mathematical Sciences (V-KEMS). A fuller description of the overall results from the VSG are given in [1]. S.J. also acknowledges support from the Alan Turing Institute under EPSRC grant no. EP/N510129/1.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors.


  • COVID-19
  • queues
  • shopping
  • unsafe interactions
  • viral exposure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


Dive into the research topics of 'Assessing risk in the retail environment during the COVID-19 pandemic'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this