Coronavirus: Shoppers told to buy responsibly

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People shop in aisles with empty shelves in a Sainsbury"s supermarket in Walthamstow, east London on March 20, 2020. - The British prime minister urged people in his daily press conference on March 19 to be reasonable in their shopping as supermarkets emptied out of crucial items - notably toilet roll - across Britain. The government said it was temporarily relaxing elements of competition law to allow supermarkets to work together to maintain supplies.Image copyright
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Shoppers in the UK have been told to “be responsible” and think of others such as NHS workers, after panic-buying amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said there is more than enough food to go around – but the challenge for shops is keeping shelves stocked.

It comes as supermarkets have been overwhelmed by increased purchasing.

Meanwhile, cafes, pubs and restaurants across the UK have closed as part of measures to stop the virus spreading.

“Frankly we should all be ashamed,” said Stephen Powis, medical director at NHS England, who said panic-buyers are depriving NHS staff of the supplies they need.

“These are the very people that we all need to look after perhaps us or our loved ones in the weeks to come.”

Earlier this week, a critical care nurse made an emotional video appeal for people to stop panic-buying and leave some goods for others who need to stay healthy.

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Media captionCritical care nurse Dawn was driven to despair by the actions of panic-buyers

Speaking in Downing Street, Mr Eustice said: “We recognise that this is a challenging time and there are many things the government is asking the nation to do differently as we work together to fight this pandemic.

“Be responsible when you shop and think of others. Buying more than you need means others may be left without.”

He added: “There’s no shortage of food. Food manufacturing has geared up to meet an increase in demand and it is up by 50%.

‘Eat what we have at home’

The head of the British Retail Consortium, Helen Dickinson, said: “There is plenty of food in the supply chain.”

“The issue is around people and lorries” getting food onto shelves quick enough, she said.

She said the food industry was experiencing “a peak in demand” like at Christmas, but “without the four-month build-up period.”

Ms Dickinson added: “There is £1bn more food in people’s houses than there was three weeks ago, so we should make sure we eat some of it.”

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Image caption

There was a large queue of shoppers trying to get into the Costco store in Glasgow on Saturday

Asked about toilet paper – which is among the items being bought in bulk by some members of the public – Mr Eustice said it was up to retailers to decide whether to bring in buying limits.

“Toilet roll is one, where, for reasons that are not really known, there was a spike early on, despite the fact that toilet roll is made in this country and they are able to expand production very quickly,” he said.

Some supermarkets have already imposed limits on how much of each item shoppers can buy.

And many stores including Tesco, Asda, Aldi, and Lidl have said they are hiring thousands of staff to meet the unprecedented demand.

Tesco, the UK’s biggest supermarket, said it wants to take on 20,000 temporary workers “to help feed the nation”.

Mr Powis, of NHS England, also reiterated the importance of people avoiding social contact.

“It’s not for somebody else to follow, it’s for you to follow, it’s for me to follow, it’s for everybody to follow,” he said.

“This is all our problem and if we do it together, it will be an effective strategy. If you do it, you follow the advice, you will be saving somebody’s life.

“This is the time in your lifetime whereby your action can save somebody’s life. It is as simple and as stark as that.”

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