Panice-buying across Europe intensified this week as supermarkets under mounting pressure are taking drastic rationing action in a bid to deal with the unprecedented demand for goods.

Mail Online reports: “Britain’s grocery industry has struggled for over a week to keep shelves stocked in the face of stockpiling, which worsened on Tuesday despite weekend appeals for calm from supermarket bosses and politicians.

“But experts have asked why supermarkets have introduced different limits on certain goods, creating confusion for customers and competition among rivals.

“Sainsbury’s has announced it is closing its in-store meat, fish and pizza counters and cafes from tomorrow to free up lorry and warehouse capacity, as well as shelf-stacking time, for essential items to be replenished.

“From March 23, disabled customers and those over 70 will take priority for online delivery slots.

“Morrisons plans to create 3,500 new jobs and expand its home delivery operation to help it deal with coronavirus.

“Aldi became the first UK grocer to introduce rationing, limiting customers to buying four items of any one product during each visit.

“Tesco followed suit by limiting shoppers to five items, and Asda has introduced a limit of three items while Iceland will only open to elderly, vulnerable and disabled shoppers on Wednesday mornings.”

Elderley shopper looking at empty supermarket shelves

But despite the stringent new measures, the report said: “Shelves at a Tesco supermarket in Ely, Cambridgeshire, were stripped bare just two hours after the store opened this morning.

“And customers at an Asda Walmart in Waterlooville, Hampshire, were queuing outside the door at 6am this morning and within just one hour, shoppers claim shelves were empty as worried households continue to stockpile against government advice.

“It was forced to take its mobile app offline temporarily due to high demand on Tuesday, and announced it would be reducing the hours of all of its 24-hour stores to 6am to 10pm.”

Meanwhile, Waitrose introduced a limit to products – including hand sanitizer – that can be bought online.

“The supermarket also said it was drafting in 1,200 staff ‘and growing’ from sister retailer John Lewis to help it cope with demand.

“Morrisons  rationed purchases per customer transaction on 1,250 items, such as toilet roll, cleaning products and some health and beauty ranges.

“It called on shoppers to ‘just buy what we need’ as it revealed a jump in sales in recent weeks.

“Shoppers seeking a Morrisons home delivery have been instructed to tell the store if they are self-isolating so goods can be left on the doorstep.

“Morrisons is creating 3,500 jobs to meet surging demand for its home delivery service caused by the pandemic.

“The chain said it would be recruiting 2,500 pickers and drivers while hiring about 1,000 people to work in distribution centres.

“It is also planning a new call centre for those without access to online shopping, plus the launch of a new range of simple-to-order food parcels from next Monday.

“Asda has announced it is restricting all customers to buying up to three items on all food, toiletries and cleaning products amid a surge in demand following the coronavirus outbreak.

:The limit will not apply to fresh fruit/vegetables.

“The supermarket chain also said it will close its cafes and pizza counters to free space and staff in order to help keep shelves fully stocked.

“Sainsbury’s  limiting shoppers to three items.

Restrictions include:

  • 3 meats
  • 1 pack of toilet roll
  • 2 arge boxes of eggs
  • 2 multi packs of tinned soups and veg
  • 3 pasta packs
  • 1 hand sanitiser

“A cap of two is going to be imposed on the most popular items, such as toilet roll, soap and UHT milk,” the report added.

“Meat, fish and pizza counters and cafes are being closed from Thursday to free up lorry and warehouse capacity, as well as shelf-stacking time, for essential items to be replenished.

“Plans are in place to beef up its ‘click and collect’ service, and these two groups will be given priority access when new slots become available.”

In Iceland, supermarkets allowed elderly customers exclusive use of the shop between 9am and 11am before the general public were allowed in.

“The scheme, which will run every Wednesday until further notice, has been rolled out at Iceland stores across the country.

“Panic-buyers also stripped the shelves of a Sainsbury’s store in Colchester Essex, as the supermarket giant slapped shoppers with strict rationing.

“The locust-like wave of shoppers have nearly emptied the supermarket chain’s biggest store of vital goods.

“The empty shelves are a stark contrast to the bustling carpark with worried shoppers queuing up in the aisles at 7.30am.”

One elderly shopper said: “I can’t believe it, I thought there would be more stock coming in. It is like locusts have been through here and gone mad. I only popped in for my weekly shop and I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

On Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson shut down social life in Britain and advised the most vulnerable to isolate for 12 weeks.

Meanwhile, lorry drivers transporting essential goods to supermarkets can stay on the road longer without a break to help the response to COVID-19, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has announced.

“He has relaxed drivers’ hours rules as retailers struggle to keep shelves filled due to stockpiling caused by coronavirus fears.

“The measure applies to drivers playing a part in supplying supermarkets with food, personal care items, toilet roll, cleaning products and medicines.”

The report also noted that even before coronavirus hit, “the UK’s national debt was due to hit £2trillion by 2024-25”.

“However, the crisis now looks set to force the government to underwrite huge sections of the economy to avoid collapse.

“The £330billion of guarantees for business loans offered by Chancellor Rishi Sunak sounds like a huge sum – around double the annual budget for the NHS or equivalent to around £5,000 per head of the population.

“But it is unclear exactly how much money the government will need to find for that. Such schemes work through the state standing as guarantor for loans from banks – so the costs only crystalise if firms default.”