TORONTO -- Several grocery stores in Canada are opening their doors early for seniors and those with other health concerns to give them an opportunity to shop with fewer customers around amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Health officials have identified the elderly and those with other medical concerns as the most vulnerable to the novel coronavirus.

In light of their increased risk, companies have introduced designated hours at their stores when only seniors and those with other health concerns can buy their groceries with a decreased chance of close contact with other customers.

On Monday, Galen Weston, the executive chairman of Loblaw Companies, announced that some of his company’s Loblaws grocery stores and Shopper Drug Mart pharmacies would open early for seniors and people living with disabilities so they can shop before the crowds.

“We all agree that food and drug stores are essential services and we must do what we need to in order to keep them operating and serving every community in the days and weeks ahead,” he wrote in a statement.

Weston also encouraged customers who can’t shop in person to take advantage of home delivery services.

Loblaws and Shoppers Drug Mart aren’t the only retailers offering extended hours for seniors and those with special needs.

In Toronto, Pusateri’s Fine Foods declared that all of their locations, except for the one inside the Eaton’s Centre, would open early for the elderly and those at a higher risk of infection.

“We ask that all of our guests respect this dedicated shopping time for those in our community that are most vulnerable,” he said.

Also in Toronto, all Longo’s locations will offer a “community wellbeing hour” from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. every morning for seniors and other at-risk members of the community.

In West Vancouver, the Fresh St. Market is offering a “Seniors Shopping Hours” on Wednesdays and Fridays between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, Colemans Grocery said they would hold a temporary dedicated shopping hour for seniors, those with disabilities, the immunocompromised.

“This is designed to help ensure these customers are able to shop in less crowded aisles in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic,” the chain said in a statement on Facebook on Monday.

In Edmonton, Sobeys Belmont also took measures to ensure seniors were looked after by reserving 50 per cent of its toilet paper stock for them after people cleared out shelves and stockpiled packages.

Grocery stores in the U.S., such as Woolworths, Coles, and H-E-B, also began introducing early opening hours for seniors this week in response to the pandemic.