AUSTIN, Texas — Every day, grocery workers are restocking toilet paper, eggs, produce and canned goods as fast as the items fly off the shelves. They disinfect keypads, freezer handles and checkout counters as hundreds of people weave around them, sometimes standing too close for comfort amid the coronavirus pandemic. Some work for hours behind clear plastic barriers installed at checkout counters, bulwarks against sudden sneezes or coughs that can propel germs. They aren’t doctors or nurses, yet they have been praised for their dedication by Pope Francis, former U.S. President Barack Obama and countless people on social media, as infections and death counts rise. From South Africa to Italy to the U.S., grocery workers — many in low-wage jobs — are manning the frontlines amid worldwide lockdowns, their work deemed essential to keep food and critical goods flowing. Some fear falling sick or bringing the virus home to vulnerable loved ones, and frustration is mounting as some demand better workplace protections, including shorter hours to allow them to rest, and “hazard” pay for working closely with the public. “Everyone is scared everywhere, here in South Africa and everywhere in the world,” said Zandile Mlotshwa, a cashier at Spar supermarket


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