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Shop staff are heroes, says retail chief as coronavirus panic buying sees shelves stripped bare

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Shop shelves around the UK have been stripped bare due to panic buying

Shop shelves around the UK have been stripped bare due to panic buying

PA

Shop shelves around the UK have been stripped bare due to panic buying

Shop shelves around the UK have been stripped bare due to panic buying

empty shelves

empty shelves

Aodhan Connolly

Aodhan Connolly

Shop shelves around the UK have been stripped bare due to panic buying

Northern Ireland's retail workers have been described as "heroes" after a week that has seen shop shelves being stripped bare, panic buying and reports of aggression towards staff at shop tills as coronavirus fears grip.

Stock levels in shops started to deteriorate on Thursday as rumours circulated that Prime Minister Boris Johnson was preparing to announce school closures.

Over the weekend stocks of soap, toilet roll, baby milk and nappies were low or non-existent in many shops as retail staff struggled to keep up with demand from a public living in fear of contracting the virus that has infected 156,000 and killed almost 6,000 people.

Aodhan Connolly, Northern Ireland Retail Consortium director, said people need to "stop, think and buy responsibly".

"The supply chain is still good," he said. "And we need people to buy responsibly. They just need to buy their normal weekly shop because we are getting deliveries daily and we are working with the government to ensure that things get through. In fact this weekend the Infrastructure Minister has written to councils to ask them to reduce the curfews and restrictions on deliveries, which means that we will be able to get more through.

"This all shows that it is all working. However, the people who are overbuying are causing the problem. It's not the supply chain. We need to be working together on this. There is enough for everyone if everyone is responsible and works together.

"There are people out there who are vulnerable, who don't have enough to do more than one shop a week, who don't have enough money to stock up - people like the elderly, carers, the disabled and people who can't get into town and go to several shops. We need for people to think of others and buy responsibly and that way there will be enough for all."

Asked if he thought stores in Northern Ireland could close, Mr Connolly said even in the worst hit areas of Europe, shops are still open and fully stocked.

"In Italy and the very worst places that have been hit by the virus, the supplies are still getting through," he said. "People are still able to get out to the shops. People are aware that, should it be the largest retailer or the smallest, people will still be able to get their supplies and get their food and feed their families.

"I can't hypothesise about what measures might be brought in into Northern Ireland or the United Kingdom, but what I can say is at the moment, our supply chains are really good and we are working hand in hand with the government to make sure that we can continue to give people the goods that they need. And at the moment that is working."

Mr Connolly said our retail workers were "heroes" for working in very difficult circumstances.

"We are doing the hard work so that shoppers don't have to," he said. "We are looking after the supply chains and they are working. We need to think of others and we need to work together. There is no need to be overbuying. We need to be thinking of those people who are the most vulnerable in society who can't do it.

"But also we need to think of our colleagues. There has been some abuse at tills. Our retail workers are doing an amazing job in very difficult circumstances. Over this last week I have been at over 25 stores and I've seen people working hard at the tills. I've seen people working hard to put stuff out on the shelves as soon as it comes in. The big message I would put out there is to be kind to our workers, because they are doing an amazing job in really difficult circumstances and I cannot get across how unbelievably proud and thankful I am to the people who are on the frontline, in our warehouses and distribution centres. They are doing an amazing job. They are heroes."

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