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Supermarkets introduce new measures to combat panic buying

Shelves have been stripped of essential items during the coronavirus outbreak, leaving some NHS workers without essential supplies.

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Empty shelves in a Tesco Extra store in Worthing (Michael Drummond/PA)

Empty shelves in a Tesco Extra store in Worthing (Michael Drummond/PA)

Empty shelves in a Tesco Extra store in Worthing (Michael Drummond/PA)

Supermarkets have introduced a range of new measures in order to keep stores open and shelves stocked during the coronavirus pandemic.

Opening hours have been altered and some chains have increased worker pay as panic buying continues across the UK.

The Department for Transport has also relaxed restrictions on lorry drivers’ hours in order to keep supplies moving and supermarket stocks replenished.

Shelves have been stripped of essential items – such as toilet rolls, hand sanitiser, paracetamol, meat, fruit and vegetables – as shoppers ignore pleas not to stockpile.

It has led to supermarkets having to bring in limits on the amount of some items sold, with “golden” shopping hours introduced to help the elderly and NHS and care workers.

At a briefing on Saturday, Environment Secretary George Eustice urged people to “be responsible” when shopping, and said it was for retailers to agree on appropriate stock limits for goods such as toilet paper.

“All of the major retailers are working together and exercising their own judgment on where it’s appropriate to put limits – item limits – on certain issues,” he said.

“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.

“That is an item where, to make sure the goods stayed on the shelves, the supermarkets took the decision of putting an item limit.”

Several supermarket chains – including Sainsbury’s and Tesco – have now changed their opening hours in order to focus on restocking, cleaning and give “hard-working in-store colleagues a chance to rest”.

Financial rewards have also been introduced for some workers during the crisis.

Tesco has introduced a 10% bonus for its staff paid hourly, while Asda is giving employees an extra week’s pay.

The Government’s new focus on food retail has been well received by shopkeeper’s union Usdaw, which praised supermarkets for increasing support for their staff members.

Paddy Lillis, Usdaw general secretary, said: “Usdaw members are at the forefront of providing essential services in the food supply chain and we welcome the recognition of this from the Government.

“We also welcome that companies like Tesco and Asda are providing bonuses and additional pay to staff who are working long hours in stressful conditions, under threat of abuse from customers and in fear of contracting Covid-19.

“We are pleased to hear the Government echo Usdaw’s repeated calls for the public to respect staff, stay calm and under no circumstances abuse shopworkers.”

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said that shortages were partly due to the issue of lorries being unable to deliver food onto “the front line”.

The Department for Transport recently announced it will relax restrictions on the working hours for drivers for a month from March 23 until April 21 – a decision that has been welcomed by the Road Haulage Association (RHA).

RHA chief executive Richard Burnett said: “Shortages are not the problem at the moment – the problem lies with supplying the current excess demand for goods caused by panic buying.

“This just creates bottlenecks that undermine efficient delivery schedules.

“It is vital that companies only use these relaxed rules when needed and companies must monitor drivers to ensure they do not drive tired or in any way unfit.

“This relaxation must be used wisely, not abused recklessly.”

Lorries and trailers will also be exempted from MOT testing for three months.

Panic buying continues after Boris Johnson announced on Friday that all pubs and restaurants were to close due to coronavirus.

John Lewis Partnership announced on Saturday that it has taken the “difficult decision” to temporarily close all 50 John Lewis shops at close of business on Monday.

The group added that its 338 Waitrose shops will remain open, as will waitrose.com.

PA