Ther are empty shelves across Britain as worried shoppers bulk-buy toilet roll, pasta, long-life milk and other goods. With fears over lockdowns and quarantines growing, supermarkets have begun rationing out items, with social media abuzz with videos of panicked shoppers. Officials urged Britons to think ahead but said panic-buying should be avoided.
One shopper in Essex said: “I got the last pack of toilet roll in Billericay, Poundland four pack with a spiced Christmas scent.
“We actually have run out so we’re living on the edge with only four rolls to do us until stocks are replenished!
“Bizarre that no one is buying tinned soup and other useful items for if they get coronavirus.”
Twitter was also abuzz. One user remarked: “There was panic buying and stockpiling of toilet roll at Costco in Farnborough in Hampshire today”.
Empty shelves in Billericay’s branch of Waitrose this morning
Another user tweeted: “Can someone tell them covid19 is a respiratory disease.”
Public Health England urged members of the public to “plan ahead” for if they had to self-isolate for a couple of weeks.
However, the Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said there is “absolutely no reason” for the British public to panic buy.
Tesco has almost entirely sold out of dried pasta online and has now introduced a five limit number on several items, including anti-bacterial wipes, gels, and long-life milk.
No other supermarket has resorted to rationing food, however the majority are now limiting anti-bacterial gels to two per customer – or have sold out entirely.
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Panic-buying has also gripped Australia.
In Sydney, a woman allegedly pulled a knife on another customer during a row over supermarket toilet paper as panic-buying shoppers emptied shelves amid fears of the coronavirus.
Police were called to the store in Sydney after a man and woman had an argument over toilet roll in the aisle. Officers rushed to the scene after a supermarket worker reported one was carrying a knife.
Police in the Austrian city said officers were called to a “disturbance in an aisle” at Woolworths supermarket in Westfield Parramatta at 1.30pm (local time) on Wednesday.
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Only kitchen roll left in toilet paper aisles in Billericay’s Iceland store
Officers spoke to a woman and no one was injured. Local media reported authorities had cordoned off the toilet paper shelves as a result.
The demand for toilet paper, in particular, has sparked the trending hashtags toiletpapergate and toiletpapercrisis on Twitter, along with photographs of overloaded shopping trolleys, and calls for calm from baffled officials.
“We are trying to reassure people that removing all of the lavatory paper from the shelves of supermarkets probably isn’t a proportionate or sensible thing to do at this time,” Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy told a parliamentary panel on Wednesday.
The biggest grocery chain in Australia, Woolworths Group Ltd, limited sales to four packs a shopper, to keep up stock levels while suppliers ramp up production.
Coronavirus world map
The local arm of Costco Wholesale Corp limited buyers to one bulk buy pack each.
Even Prime Minister Scott Morrison has weighed in on a purchasing trend that appears to be at odds with other countries’ stockpiling of items with a long shelf-life, such as tinned goods, telling the public major grocers had assured him they could meet any spike in demand.
Police confirmed they were called to a supermarket in Sydney to deal with “a disturbance in an aisle”, with media saying the authorities had cordoned off the toilet paper shelves as a result.
Shoppers have swooped on other products also. Costco has put limits on purchases of milk, eggs, rice, disinfectants and soap.
Weeks ago, Coles Group Ltd began posting signs in stores warning of shortages of hand and laundry sanitiser.
Coles said it was working with suppliers and transport partners to improve the availability of popular products, but did not confirm if it was also rationing sales of some.
“We have increased deliveries from our distribution centres and our teams are working hard to fill the shelves,” it said in an emailed statement.
German-owned discounter Aldi Inc and U.S.-listed Kimberly-Clark Corp, which makes toilet paper for the Australian market via domestic units, were not immediately available for comment.
While the bulk of Australia’s virus victims caught it overseas, the two latest cases involve people who have not left the country.
The most populous state of New South Wales said a female aged care worker had caught the virus, which has spread to at least one resident of the centre where she worked.
It said an 82-year-old man was in hospital, while officials await results of a test on a 95-year-old woman who died on Tuesday after developing a respiratory illness.
“Whether it was related to coronavirus, we don’t know,” state health minister Brad Hazzard told reporters about the death.