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UK public should 'think of NHS and vulnerable' and stop stockpiling

Tom McArthur
Page editor
Senior citizens walk past empty shelves as they shop at Sainsbury's Supermarket on March 19, 2020 in Northwich, United Kingdom. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The environment secretary has told panic-buyers who are stockpiling food and other supplies they are making life harder for frontline NHS workers battling the coronavirus pandemic.

In the government’s daily media briefing on Saturday, the public were also told that there’s plenty of food available, but the problem is getting it to the shops.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs secretary George Eustice urged people to be responsible when they shop but stopped short of saying rationing would be needed to keep shelves stocked.

Read more: Supermarkets create thousands of jobs as UK panic-buys

Eustice said that it was for retailers to agree what the appropriate limit was on 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."

Eustice also said the government keeps "a close eye" on profiteering amid concerns some products have been sold online for inflated prices.

Read more: Tories under pressure to support millions of struggling self-employed workers

The British Retail Consortium's Helen Dickinson said retailers would implement policies that would make the most difference to the vulnerable.

Ms Dickinson added: "There is a billion pounds more food in people's houses than there was three weeks ago, so we should make sure we eat some of it."

NHS England's Stephen Powis said shoppers should think of NHS staff before buying more than they need.

He said people should be "ashamed" of themselves for panic-buying, and urged people to think of struggling NHS staff.

"I would like to make a plea on behalf of all my colleagues in the NHS, nurses, doctors, paramedics and many, many others who are working incredibly hard at the moment to manage this outbreak of coronavirus," he said.

"It's incredibly important that they too have access to food, to those essential supplies that they need."