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Supermarkets ask shoppers to be 'considerate' and stop panic buying

Supermarkets are urging shoppers not to buy more than they need amid concern over coronavirus-linked stockpiling.

In a joint letter, UK retailers have reminded customers to be considerate in their shopping, so that others are not left without much-needed items.

"There is enough for everyone if we all work together," it adds. (image AFP)

It comes after some shops began rationing the sales of certain products to avoid them selling out completely.

In the letter, the retailers say online and click-and-collect services are at "full capacity" and staff and suppliers are "working day and night to keep the nation fed". The retailers say they are working "closely" with government and suppliers to make more deliveries to stores so that shelves are well-stocked. "We understand your concerns but buying more than is needed can sometimes mean that others will be left without," the letter reads.

Speaking on behalf of retailers, Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said: "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."

The plea follows widespread concern over shoppers emptying supermarket shelves as fears grow over the spread of coronavirus.

On Twitter:

Michelle Davies@M_Davieswrites

Ridiculous scenes in Tesco Colney Hatch this morning. Shelves cleared like there's been a riot. The selfishness of some people filling their trolleys with multiple packs and leaving none for others is staggering. (Plus so much for getting here early to avoid crowded spaces.)

Items including toilet paper, hand sanitiser, pasta and tinned foods are among those that have been in short supply.

At Tesco, shoppers are limited to buying no more than five of certain goods, including anti-bacterial gels, wipes and sprays, dry pasta, UHT milk and some tinned vegetables.

Meanwhile, Waitrose has brought in a temporary cap on some items on its website, including some anti-bacterial soaps and wipes. Boots and Asda are both restricting some types of hand sanitiser to two bottles per person.

Campaigners have warned stockpiling could hit the "most vulnerable" hardest.

Some food banks say they have a shortage of basic items which have already been panic bought by shoppers.

The government has said there is no need for anyone to stockpile items, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging people to "behave responsibly and think about others". The government is relaxing restrictions on delivery hours for retailers to try to ensure shops remain stocked with basic items. Deliveries to supermarkets are usually restricted overnight to avoid disturbing local residents. Environment Secretary George Eustice said allowing night-time deliveries would allow stock to move more quickly from warehouses to shelves.

Meanwhile, the Competition and Markets Authority watchdog has warned retailers not to "exploit" fears about coronavirus by dramatically increasing the price of protective goods such as hand gels and face masks.

Food bank shortage blamed on panic buying

Food banks say they have a shortage of basic items because shoppers are stockpiling as fears grow over the spread of coronavirus. London food bank Sufra, which donates 9,540 parcels annually, says the likes of pasta and rice are hard to get. A food bank in Bedfordshire has warned stockpiling "will hit the vulnerable". In Coventry, one food bank said supplies have "never been so low" and in Billingham donations have dropped considerably in recent days.

Food bank charity The Trussell Trust said it hoped the "generous public" would continue donating. "We're working with our network on how best to support people as the situation unfolds," it said. The North Paddington Foodbank (NPF) in London said its donations were down by 25% meaning it had to spend an additional £200 per week to top up supplies. But manager James Quayle said finding supplies has been difficult. "The items we are trying to purchase may not be available [from supermarkets]," he said. "We've been hit quite hard by it to be honest."

In Coventry, the Queen's Road Baptist Church Food Bank, which has been operating for a decade, usually helps up to 4,000 people each year. Although now is traditionally a quieter time for donations, contingency plans are in place, in the event the virus takes hold.

But Graham Carpmail, from the bank, said his fridge is all but empty and supplies have diminished. "I've never been so low with what we've got to give people," he added.

On Teesside, the Billingham and Stockton Borough Food Bank said donations had dropped.

"I think we're lower on stock because people have started to stockpile and so don't give as much," Jill Coyle, from the bank, said. "We put [long-life] milk in every bag and we are low. Likewise with juice and squash. Sugar and coffee are the other things everybody wants. Coffee is a bit more expensive so we get less of it donated. Shops don't donate food as such, but have a basket at the end of the tills so people can shop and donate an item. It's that collection that's been lower."

Back in Paddington, King Anthony Sarkar, a regular food bank user, said he could not manage without it. "Tinned foods, rice and pasta, everything here makes a meal," he said. "You get a meal all the time."

Mr Quayle said he was concerned they could have to close their doors and run a delivery service only to those in greatest need.

His experience was echoed by Rajesh Makwana, from the Sufra food bank in north-west London, who said 40% of its users are refugees or asylum seekers who rely on the food banks as they are not allowed to work. It has put out an emergency appeal for donations after receiving fewer items from its collection points at schools, churches and local small businesses. Mr Makwana said they have struggled to buy staple items from their normal outlets as supermarkets ran out of these cheaper items. "The families we support simply can't afford to panic buy and hoard food, they're already knocking on our door in search of basic supplies," he said.

Mr Makwana said the charity had now started rationing things like pasta and toiletries. Like NPF, Sufra is also looking at running a delivery-only service in order to protect volunteers from cross-contamination.

"We want to provide a service but we're struggling on so many fronts," he added.

The Parson Cross Initiative in Sheffield is planning for a fall off in donations in the coming weeks. The food bank said it was also taking precautions by issuing "grab bags" from next week in a bid to cut down on person-to-person contact. Normally, people can have a snack and a drink while they wait.

The Felix Project in Enfield, London, which collects just-in-date and surplus food from supermarkets and restaurants to distribute to 330 charities and schools, said its warehouses were now short. "Everyone is scaling back and we've seen a significant drop. It is worrying," Damian Conrad said. He was especially concerned for his schools which have a high percentage of pupils relying on a school dinner as their main meal.

The Oasis Project in Plymouth is almost empty and has seen a run on its meat, fruit juices and tinned tomatoes. Eunice Halliday said: "If more people self-isolate and only get statutory sick pay, that's likely to lead to an increase in people needing the food bank."

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