British food retailers have appealed to the public to stop panic buying amid reports of bare shelves at supermarkets across the country.
In an open letter, giants including Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda said their staff were “working day and night to keep the nation fed” during the coronavirus pandemic.
“But we need your help too,” the British Retail Consortium added. “We would ask everyone to be considerate in the way they shop.
“We understand your concerns but buying more than is needed can sometimes mean that others will be left without. There is enough for everyone if we all work together.”
It came as shoppers across the UK reported that basic household items, including toilet roll, handwash and pasta were sold out at their local supermarkets.
Major chains have started restricting the quantities people can buy to prevent bulk purchases.
Customer service lines and social media accounts have been bombarded with messages from people unable to buy what they need, or to get slots for online deliveries.
The British Retail Consortium said it was working closely with the government to keep food supplies moving, and making more deliveries to stock the shelves of shops.
Members said online delivery and click-and-collect services were “running them at full capacity”.
“We know that many of you are worried about the spread of coronavirus,” the letter said.
“We want to let you know that we are doing everything we can so that you and your families have the food and essentials you need.
“Together we can make sure we are looking out for family, friends, neighbours. Together we will care for those around us and those who are elderly, vulnerable or choosing to remain at home.”
The group said it was doing everything it could to serve the public and keep their staff safe, amid reports of supermarket workers being verbally abused by customers.
The letter was signed by Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Lidl, Co-op, Aldi, Iceland, Morrisons, Waitrose, M&S, Ocada and Costcutter.
The health secretary admitted on Sunday that he could not guarantee shops will not run out of food.
Matt Hancock told Sky News' Sophy Ridge the government was “confident that the food supply will continue”.
But pressed, he said: “Well we are confident about it. What I can guarantee is we will work with the supermarkets to ensure that people get enough.
"I understand why people might be stocking up but people have got to behave responsibly.
“Supermarkets are right to write the letter calling on people to be responsible and to consider the impact their stocking up might have on others.
"And of course we stand ready to take further measures if that's necessary."
A proposed set of laws setting out emergency powers to deal with the coronavirus outbreak will be outlined on Tuesday and published in full two days later.
Mr Hancock said the government was working with Labour to take a ”cross-party approach“, adding: "It includes a broad range of actions, all about preparing Britain, making sure that we're ready, should we need to be."
Mr Hancock said that people aged over 70 will be asked in the coming weeks to self-isolate for up to four months in order to protect them from coronavirus.
By Saturday morning, 21 patients who tested positive for the virus have died and 1,140 cases have been confirmed in the UK.
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