Coronavirus: Supermarkets ration toilet paper to prevent stockpiling

Supermarkets trying to prevent shoppers from stockpiling have put purchase limits on items including pasta, anti-bacterial wipes, hand soap, toilet paper and children’s medications.

Shelves across the country have been stripped of such goods after Public Health England urged members of the public to “plan ahead” in case they had to self-isolate for a couple of weeks.

However, the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, has said there is “absolutely no reason” for the British public to panic-buy.

Tesco has almost sold out of its own-brand dried pasta and tinned tomatoes online and has now limited many high-demand items to five per shopper. Categories include long-life milk, bleach, dried pasta, tinned vegetables, children’s medications, water and anti-bacterial wipes, gels and sprays.

The restrictions apply both online and in stores. Customers have been told by the supermarket: “We know there’s demand for certain products at the moment and we’re working really hard to maintain availability of those to help customers. We’ve taken a common-sense approach to make sure everyone can access essentials.”

No other supermarket has yet resorted to rationing food, but the majority are limiting anti-bacterial gels to two per customer — if they have not sold out already.

Ocado, the online delivery service of Waitrose, was rationing toilet rolls on Sunday evening, with customers able to buy a maximum of two 12-roll packs of Andrex.

As of 9am on Sunday, 273 people in the UK had been diagnosed with Covid-19, an increase of 67 from the 206 cases confirmed on Saturday. It represents the largest day-on-day increase in diagnoses.

Coronavirus concerns appear to have created an international rush for toilet paper. Two women have been charged after a fight broke out over toilet roll in an Australian supermarket, a video of which was shared widely online.

One Asda customer complained that she had placed an online order for her elderly mother last Sunday, but that it had arrived on Saturday minus the toilet rolls.

Hand-sanitiser products were also found to be selling for more than 5,000% their recommended retail price online, with bottles worth 49p selling for £24.99. One eBay listing has sold a second-hand bottle of liquid soap for more than £5, despite being only three-quarters full.

The environment secretary, George Eustice, will meet with food industry representatives on Monday. A Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesperson said: “The environment secretary will hold a further call with chief executives from the UK’s leading supermarkets and industry representatives on 9 March to discuss their response to the coronavirus. The meeting will discuss support for vulnerable groups who may be in isolation.”

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