Health and Healthcare Systems

'There is enough for everyone if we all work together': UK supermarkets are besieged by customers

Shelves previously filled with pasta and canned food are seen empty at a Trader Joe's grocery store as shoppers gather supplies with coronavirus fears spreading in Encinitas, California, U.S., March 12, 2020.      REUTERS/Mike Blake - RC2PIF9M6M6F

Coronavirus fears around self-isolation and quarantining are leading shoppers to panic buy supplies. Image: REUTERS/Mike Blake

James Davey
Reporter, Reuters
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  • UK shoppers have been asked to stop panic-buying by British retailers.
  • Supermarkets have compared the situation to the pre-Christmas rush.

Britain’s food retailers appealed to shoppers on Sunday to stop panic buying during the coronavirus outbreak, saying purchasing more than they need would mean others will be left without.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC), which represents supermarket groups, said retailers had come together to write to their customers, calling on them to be considerate in the way they shop.

The letter, signed by Tesco (TSCO.L), Sainsbury’s (SBRY.L), Asda (WMT.N), Morrisons (MRW.L), Aldi, Lidl, Coop, Waitrose, M&S (MKS.L), Iceland, Ocado (OCDO.L) and Costcutter, was published in adverts in national newspapers on Sunday.

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“We understand your concerns but buying more than is needed can sometimes mean that others will be left without. There is enough for everyone if we all work together,” the letter said.

Social media has been awash over the last week with pictures of empty shelves in Britain’s major supermarkets, with items like dried pasta, toilet rolls and canned food particularly sought after.

coronavirus fears epidemic pandemic disease infection contamination sanitation spread virus health care
The result of panic buying. Image: REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

Britain’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the government was confident that food supplies were secure, but everybody had to act responsibly as part of a national effort.

“If you are buying food for instance and loo roll you buy what you need, because there’s an impact on others,” he told BBC’s Andrew Marr program on Sunday.

Trading in British supermarkets has been intense, with some shop bosses saying it can only be compared to the pre-Christmas rush.

Anecdotal evidence suggested activity had stepped-up further since Thursday when Prime Minister Boris Johnson said those showing even mild symptoms of having the virus should self-isolate for at least seven days.

As of Saturday, 21 people had died after testing positive for COVID-19 in Britain, health authorities said.

The food retailers said in the letter they were working closely with government and suppliers to keep food moving quickly through the system and making more deliveries to stores to ensure shelves were stocked.

They also said retailers with online delivery and click-and-collect services were running at full capacity.

Tesco Chairman John Allan said on Thursday it was unlikely the retailer, which has a 27.2% share of the British grocery market, would experience anything worse than “very short term, temporary” shortages of certain products.

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