In Brief

Coronavirus: Supermarkets ‘want police support’ to stem panic buying

Fights break out in UK stores following rumours of heightened shopping restrictions

Industry sources have said that UK supermarkets want police support to deter unruly behaviour if London goes into lockdown to stem the spread of coronavirus.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has joined forces with Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons to urge shoppers to stop panic buying.

“However,” says Reuters, “the pleas have fallen on deaf ears, with demand increasing and stores being stripped bare of food”.

City A.M. reports that some shops have been forced to impose limits on the number of in-demand products consumers can buy, due to shortages of basic items such as pasta, soup and toilet roll. 

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Although supermarket bosses insist there is no shortage of food, the BBC reports that “there are warnings that the next potential weak link in the chain is at food manufacturers”.

This problem will be exacerbated, the broadcaster notes, as “staff absences... mark the beginning of a new and potentially serious supply chain problem”.

Andrew Opie, from the British Retail Consortium, the industry body representing supermarkets, told Sky News: “Retailers across the country are working closely with police and other partners to keep retail sites running as smoothly as possible.

“It is vital that police forces prioritise the safety of those who are working to meet the needs of an entire country,” Opie said.

He added that “anyone found to be abusing staff or customers should be met with the full force of the law”.

A spokesman for the National Police Chiefs Council said no national decision had been made on providing staffing at supermarkets. “We do not expect food shortages or looting. In fact, the experience of other countries suggest this is highly unlikely to be an issue,” they said.

After rumours that the army may also be called in to maintain order, a spokesperson for the prime minister moved to play down the claims, saying: “Maintenance of public order is the responsibility of the police, and there are no plans to use military personnel for public order during the coronavirus pandemic.”

In Australia, police have been called up to supervise long queues at grocery stores, with shoppers rushing to get their hands on what’s left on the shelves, according to the Daily Mail.

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