The UK’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary George Eustice has said ‘there is no shortage of food’ but has urged people to ‘be responsible when you shop’.
The comments came in Downing Street’s daily Coronavirus press briefing on Saturday.
The government has relaxed restrictions on driver hours and competition laws, has suspended the plastic bag charge and has given retailers more flexibility of store opening hours to allow supermarkets to better serve customers during the pandemic.
Mr Eustice said that supermarkets are working together to place item limits and decide appropriate measures due to the panic-buying. He said people need ‘calm down’ and ‘only buy what they need’. He said the government thought it was better for individual retailers to make decisions on which products to restrict rather than the government.
Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, Helen Dickinson said at the press briefing that “There is plenty of food in the supply chain”, adding, “There is a billion pounds more food in people’s houses than there was three weeks ago, so we should make sure we eat some of it.”
Ms Dickinson said the government had been working with supermarkets and retailers to discuss ways forward and ‘to ensure we all have access to the food we need.’ She noted problems with a shortage of people and lorries (rather than a shortage of food) which has led to some supermarket shelves being empty.
Stephen Powis, the National Medical Director for NHS England made a plea on behalf of NHS workers for people to not shop selfishly or stockpile. Mr Powis made reference to a video that has circulated on social media of a critical care nurse reduced to tears after being unable to find any fruit or vegetables in a supermarket, saying;
“Frankly we should all be ashamed that that has to happen – it’s unacceptable. These are the very people that we all need to look after perhaps us or our loved ones in the weeks to come.”
Mr Eustice also said that the government was in discussion with supermarkets to ensure food banks can remain open and that further announcements would be made in the coming days.
The press briefing came after Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered all cafes, pubs, bars, restaurants and gyms to close on Friday evening amid the Coronavirus pandemic.