Britain’s leading supermarkets are pleading with customers to refrain from panic buying during the coronavirus crisis, with some already rationing items and turning new customers away to cope with demand.
In a highly unusual move, all the major operators including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Ocado signed up to a letter urging customers to shop responsibly and ensure supplies are shared out fairly.
“We know that many of you are worried about the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19),” they say in the letter, which runs in a number of national newspapers today and tomorrow. “We want to let you know that we are doing everything we can so that you and your families have the food and essentials you need.
“We are working closely with government and our suppliers to keep food moving quickly through the system and making more deliveries to our stores to ensure our shelves are stocked. Those of us with online delivery and click-and-collect services are running them at full capacity.
“But we need your help too. We would ask everyone to be considerate in the way they shop. 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.”
Retailers and online sellers have faced huge demand, with pictures emerging of empty shelves in some stores, with hand sanitiser, pasta and toilet paper selling out. Paper towels, thermometers and paracetamol also appeared to be in low supply among some online retailers. Stores are attempting to increase supplies in an attempt to keep up.
Their joint plea comes after a series of meetings with the government last week. Delivery hours to supermarkets are being extended to ensure shelves can be replenished more quickly, while ministers are prepared to implement existing rules that allow for an extensions on delivery drivers’ hours. A further emergency meeting is planned for tomorrow between George Eustice, the environment secretary, and the supermarket chief executives.
All kinds of businesses are changing their behaviour to deal with the outbreak. Online supermarket Ocado has said it is prioritising existing customers and not accepting the return of old shopping bags, as it usually does. Meanwhile, takeaway delivery companies Just Eat and Deliveroo have both said they will provide deliveries without physical contact. Tech giant Apple has closed its stores temporarily, while the Body Shop cosmetics company has stopped makeup demonstrations and tester pots.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “Retailers are working incredibly hard to keep shops well stocked and deliveries running as smoothly as possible. In the face of unprecedented demand as a result of coronavirus, food retailers have come together to ask their customers to support each other to make sure everyone can get access to the products they need.”
Around the country, there were mounting attempts to ensure the housebound were receiving help. In Porthcawl, former Labour MP Madeleine Moon is mobilising a team of volunteers in her former south Wales constituency to drop off essentials and offer emotional support over the phone to people in isolation, relieving some of the pressure on local GPs and the NHS.
“There is a growing sense of panic,” Moon said. “For the older demographic, certainly there is a feeling that nobody is worrying about them – that they can be discarded. We are not going to let that happen in this small town.”
In Shropshire, a medical centre has organised volunteers to collect groceries for its most vulnerable patients during the outbreak, which could last months.
In Cornwall a charity has recruited 50 people to assist those without family or friends to turn to for help. Local support groups are also being set up across the UK on Facebook and other social media.
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