Feature: UK stores struck by panic buying as COVID-19 cases surge

Source: Xinhua| 2020-03-10 02:14:03|Editor: yan
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by Xinhua writer Yu Jiaxin

London, March 9 (Xinhua) -- In front of empty shelves at a local pharmacy store in central London, Marina Georgallides, who was seeking hand gels, found herself disappointed again.

"We have been to several stores, but failed to get a bottle of hand gel," the 23-year-old Londoner told Xinhua. "The sales person told me to come early on the morning at 8:30 (0830GMT) when the store is open."

Like many others, Georgallides and her mother were trying to buy some hand sanitizers, but the shelves in many stores were raided empty as COVID-19 cases continue to surge in the country.

As of Monday morning, a total of 319 patients have tested positive for the novel coronavirus and four confirmed cases have died in Britain. According to the World Health Organization, coronavirus cases surpassed 100,000 globally last Friday.

"I'm a little bit worried about the spread of virus, but I'm more worried about people's responding to the virus," Georgallides said, "I think people are overreacting which makes me panic."

Hand gel is not the only product that easily runs out of stock in Britain. With the virus continuing to spread, people rushed to buy products such as hand soap, toilet tissues, pasta and rice, resulting in a growing number of empty shop shelves, an uncommon scene in the usually steadily supplied British stores.

A sales woman in one pharmacy store near Swiss Cottage in central London said they have three deliveries of hand wash per week, 200 bottles per delivery, but "all are sold out within one hour once the store is open."

A working man in a store of Boots, a health, beauty retailer and pharmacy chain, told Xinhua that there's no certain amount of hand wash to be delivered everyday, but all of them will be sold out very quickly after the store is open. "We have put a limit on people's buying-one bottle per each customer," he said.

According to a survey from Retail Economics, as many as one in 10 British consumers is stockpiling, based on a sample of 2,000 shoppers.

In one store of Waitrose, a British supermarkets chain, in central London, the shelves of hand wash, soap, toilet tissues and kitchen tissues, dried pasta all ran empty at a time over the weekend.

"Usually it will take one to two week to sell out, but now it only needs three to four hours," said a man working in the store.

In response to continued panic buying, major supermarkets like Tesco and Waitrose have started rationing sought- after products including anti-bacterial gels, wipes and sprays, bleach, dried pasta, long-life milk, canned vegetables and water.

Some people interviewed by Xinhua admitted they had panic buying because they are afraid of spending weeks at home in self-isolation once the outbreak gets more serious, while many more people said they are driven by the panic-buying by others.

In Georgallides's view, it was unreasonable to stockpile those products due to the panic, for she thought the country would have necessary resources to deal with the situation.

Earlier Monday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson chaired a second meeting of the government's COBRA emergency committee to tackle the COVID-19 outbreak.

Following the meeting, a government spokesperson said Britain remains in the "containment" stage of its four-stage action plan to tackle the coronavirus, rather than moving to the second stage which would see measures to delay its spread. But according to government estimates, up to a fifth of the workforce may be off sick during the peak of the epidemic in Britain.

"If our workforce is reduced by a fifth, then there are likely to be some constraints," Jan Godsell, professor of operations and supply chain strategy at WMG, University of Warwick, told the BBC, noting in a worst-case scenario there could be an impact on supplies.

Former Sainsbury's boss Justin King said the "surest way of creating shortages" is people panic-buying.

However, some old people can not afford to be as optimistic as Georgallides. One female customer aged over 80 in a Cosco shop in suburb London said she was a little bit worried about the virus because she had a heart problem.

"We do not have a strong immune system as young men does," she said, with her shopping cart filled with dozens of canned food, potatoes and hand wash.