Tesco panic buying coronavirus

“Buying more things than you need means that others may be left without,” said Eustace

The government has called on Brits to stop panic buying as it insisted there was plenty of food to go around despite the coronavirus crisis.

Speaking today after meeting with supermarket bosses, environment secretary George Eustice urged people to shop responsibility.

“Buying more things than you need means that others may be left without and it is making life more difficult for those front-line workers, such as our doctors, nurses and NHS support staff, who are working so hard in such difficult circumstances,” he said.

There was “more than enough food to go around”, he added, noting food manufacturers had already ramped up production by 50% in the face of increased demand.

“There is no shortage of food available and more is arriving at shops every day,” Eustice said. “But the challenge all our retailers have faced is keeping shelves stocked throughout the day in the face of increased purchasing behaviour.”

In recent weeks, the government has set aside night-time delivery curfews and relaxed restrictions on driver hours. It has also set aside competition laws so supermarkets can co-ordinate their efforts to ensure food reaches every part of the country.

It is understood ministers are also considering an extension to Sunday trading hours to help supermarkets cope with the huge spike in demand.

Spend on stockpiling hit £60m in the first week of coronavirus panic, The Grocer revealed last week. Supermarkets have introduced a swathe of measures to tackle empty shelves, including limits per SKU and changes to opening hours.

It comes as PM Boris Johnson last night put the UK in lockdown, ordering cafes, pubs, bars and restaurants to close in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus. He confirmed they could “continue to provide take-out services” and said the measures would be reviewed “each month”.

At the same time, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced an “unprecedented” rescue package to protect workers and businesses affected by the crisis.

The government would pay grants covering up to 80% of the salary of workers, up to a maximum of £2500 a month, he said.

As it stands, both food and non-food shops can remain open. Speaking in Parliament on Thursday, George Eustice ruled out the possibility of social distancing measures in supermarkets – such as limiting the number of customers allowed in at any one time.

Similar moves in Italy had prompted people to huddle together at the entrances of stores, he noted, making them “counterproductive”.