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Coronavirus: Are people panic-buying?

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Toilet paper seems to be top of the stockpilers' shopping lists
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 concernedHow 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.
Skip Twitter post by @cinderemma10
Stockpilers out in force. Been to my local big Tesco and local big Sainsbury’s tonight and they’ve both sold out of all the dried pasta, rice, tinned soup, baked beans, toilet rolls and anything remotely anti-bac. #Coronavirus #shopping #shitgotreal pic.twitter.com/wmgo2IYMYh— Emma Jayne (@cinderemma10) March 3, 2020
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End of Twitter post by @cinderemma10
Skip 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 pic.twitter.com/dEtk780SUb— Andy (@andymoore85) March 4, 2020
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End of Twitter post by @andymoore85
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 high demand and was working with suppliers on "an hourly basis" to keep up. Finance director Peter 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.
Stockpiling 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 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."
Are shoppers right to worry?
Shops are reportedly selling out of hand soaps and sanitisers
Some people say no, others say yes. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said UK supermarkets have "well-rehearsed contingency plans" to deal with events like the coronavirus outbreak and to make sure products are available in stores."Come into your local supermarket, and buy your normal weekly shop," said Andrew Opie, the BRC's director of food and sustainability.Meanwhile, former Sainsbury's boss Justin King said the "surest way of creating shortages" is people panic-buying."If you look at things like toilet paper and dried pasta, in the short-term, if everybody buys an extra packet, that's going to cause gaps on the shelves, because the systems will take a day or two to respond but in very large part, the system will catch up."According to Patrick Vallance, the government's chief scientific adviser, there is "absolutely no reason" for people to panic-buy. The government has contingency plans for the unlikely event that large numbers of people are quarantined.
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But Jan Godsell, professor of operations and supply chain strategy at WMG, University of Warwick, told the BBC that in a worst-case scenario there could be an impact on supplies."If our workforce is reduced by a fifth [which the government says could be the case] then there are likely to be some constraints," she told the BBC. In that scenario, she says it would be logical for supermarkets to focus on delivering a narrower range of products and collaborating on things like deliveries to ensure supplies get to where they're needed.The government, she said, needed to be more upfront to stop people panic-buying, which would only make matters worse. "When people know they're not being told the truth, they are more likely to panic-buy, so in this situation honesty is the best policy."
Retailing
Coronavirus outbreak
Companies
Tesco
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