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UK supermarkets ease coronavirus shopping restrictions

Zoe Wood
Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

Several supermarkets have loosened purchasing restrictions designed to prevent stockpiling during the coronavirus outbreak, as Tesco announced it could handle an extra 120,000 online orders per week.

Aldi, Morrisons and Waitrose relaxed their policies on Tuesday, while Lidl removed quantity controls on all groceries except toilet paper.

In a letter to its customers, the Lidl chief executive, Christian Härtnagel, said the decision had been taken as Britons made fewer shopping trips as a result of the lockdown.

“We have seen a decline in footfall so we can see that you, our customers, are following the government advice to go out food shopping as infrequently as possible,” Härtnagel said.

“At the same time, our supply chain is still processing very high volumes which means that product availability in store is improving on a daily basis.”

Aldi has also scrapped a store-wide policy that limited shoppers to buying four of anything. Controls remain in place for a number of key lines including antibacterial hand sanitiser, toilet tissue and long-life milk.

“While we would still encourage people to buy only what they need, product availability in store is good and the move will make it easier for people to shop for vulnerable people and those who are self-isolating,” the retailer said.

The Bradford-based Morrisons chain has increased the purchase limit on products from three to four, and removed them altogether on some products. the changes would make it easier for people to donate to food banks, it said.

It is estimated that the outbreak of Covid-19 has led to a 40% reduction in donations to community food banks across the country, when most are experiencing soaring demand for their services.

Waitrose also said it was no longer restricting the quantity of fresh food, including meat, poultry and ready meals, that people could buy. Caps remain in place for other products, including toilet roll, in its stores and on its website. M&S said it was starting to stock some brands, such as Tilda rice, to boost availability.

Tesco, which recently limited online shoppers to buying 80 items at a time, said its home-shopping service had been scaled up and could now handle 780,000 orders each week for either home delivery or click & collect.

That compares with 660,000 slots a fortnight ago, with the UK’s biggest supermarket planning to add another 100,000 spaces in the coming weeks.

The supermarket has bolstered the delivery slots by hiring 7,500 van drivers and product pickers. Its in-store limit of three items per customer on every product line remains in place.

The chief executive, Dave Lewis, said: “We’re doing everything we can to increase the number of slots available and to support vulnerable people. We’ll expand the number of slots available each week but this still isn’t enough to meet the demand. For this reason, it is vital that customers who can come into stores and shop for themselves do so.”

The update came as Lewis announced a £30m package of support for the community groups, including food banks and charities, that were “really under pressure”.

The sum includes £15m of food donations to the redistribution charity FareShare and the anti-poverty campaign the Trussell Trust over the next 12 weeks.

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