Are people panic-buying?

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As coronavirus, and the fear of it, continues to spread, there are a growing number of reports of empty shop shelves as people rush to buy products such as hand soap, loo roll, pasta and rice.

Some supermarkets have reported seeing spikes in demand, amid concerns there could be shortages. Chemists have even started rationing sales of hand sanitisers after stocks ran low.

So how widespread is the trend, and are consumers right to be so concerned?

How many people are panic-buying?

It is hard to say, but according to a survey from Retail Economics, as many as one in 10 UK consumers is stockpiling, based on a sample of 2,000 shoppers.

Meanwhile, research by BBC Radio 4’s PM programme found that one in three people are concerned about having access to enough food if they have to self-isolate.

Social media is full of reports of empty shop shelves and on Wednesday, staff at one supermarket branch near London told the BBC it was “madness” as customers cleared the shelves of rice, pasta and long-life milk.

Twitter post by @andymoore85: Clearly no-one is panic-buying in Luton... this was the state of the shelves in @sainsburys at 5.30pm yesterday 😂 #coronavirus

Most of the big supermarkets aren’t commenting on whether they are seeing panic-buying. But earlier this week online supermarket Ocado said shopping slots were being snapped up more quickly than usual which was understood to be linked to fears about the virus.

Ocado said people were placing “particularly large” orders but stressed there was no shortage of food.

On Thursday, John Lewis said its Waitrose chain was also seeing higher demand and was working with suppliers on “an hourly basis” to keep up.

Finance director Patrick Lewis said the firm was planning for a whole range of outcomes in case of a severe coronavirus pandemic – although he said the business was well set up to deal with whatever was thrown at it.

A shopper stands next to empty supermarket shelves in Hong Kong
Image captionStockpiling has become commonplace in Hong Kong in the wake of the virus

In other countries shoppers have also been clearing the shelves of staples, but especially toilet paper. Australian supermarkets resorted to rationing the precious commodity.

Why are people rushing to buy?

On parenting website Mumsnet, several people have admitted to panic buying, in case they have to spend two weeks at home in self-isolation.

“I’m a prepper! It’s all things we’d normally use. Having a few extra, that I’ve been buying for a while, will mean not having to buy it for a while once this blows over,” said one user.

Another said it was other panic-buyers that had persuaded her to take action.

“I have to admit, I started buying extra when this first started. Purely because panic-buyers will wipe the shelves (no pun intended!!). Pasta, UHT milk, cereal etc I’ve been ordering extra. If nothing comes of it, I just don’t need to buy it for a while.”

Denys Skirtach
Image captionDenys Skirtach says his family are stocking up

Denys Skirtach, 18, from Norfolk told the BBC his family spent £80 on Wednesday stockpiling eggs, pasta, rice, toilet paper and canned goods.

He said they also planned to stockpile ibuprofen, soap and hand sanitiser, storing it all in their garage.

“We are worried the coronavirus will spread across the UK and the supermarkets will be left without any food. We don’t want to run out of the essentials.

“We saw on one of the news sites that supermarket shelves were emptying so we thought we’d better stock up.

“I wouldn’t say we are panicking. We are preparing for the worst-case scenario.”

More at BBC News

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