Supermarkets, ministers and business leaders have urged the public not to panic buy food and other essential items amid reports of empty shelves and supply shortages linked to the so-called pingdemic.
Richard Walker, managing director of the Iceland chain, insisted there was “no problem with supply of stock” and said panic-buying was “only an option for those who can afford it and it often means that others go without”, while the head of the British Retail Consortium said there was still “plenty of food in the country”.
Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, issued a similar call to shoppers not to panic over supermarket shortages despite retailers warning that the situation around alerts from the government’s Covid app was “untenable”.
Complaints of empty shelves in some supermarkets have grown in recent days while a lorry driver shortage is said to be putting increased pressure on the country’s grocery supply chain. Trade disruption caused by Brexit is also hampering overseas deliveries.
Petrol stations in some areas are also running low on fuel with BP closing a “handful” of its UK sites due to lorry driver shortages and the closure of a distribution terminal after staff were told to isolate.
A Co-op spokesman said the supermarket was “running low on some products” and had been “impacted by some patchy disruption to our deliveries and store operations” while a Sainsbury’s spokeswoman acknowledged the retailer “might not always have the exact product a customer is looking for”.
Photos reminiscent of the first lockdown when supermarket shelves were emptied by anxious shoppers have been shared on social media, but business leaders have urged the public to remain calm.
The chief executive of the British Retail Consortium warned that some food retailers will be forced to close stores because of the number of staff being told to self-isolate.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Helen Dickinson said: “There will be many smaller businesses where if they only have one or two staff and they need to self-isolate, then that’s them needing to close their doors completely.”
But she added: “What is the most important thing is that people don’t panic because there’s no need to panic, because there’s plenty of food in the country.”
Iceland’s Mr Walker told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The dramatic pictures that you might have seen in the media are isolated incidents and not widespread.
“But the people who should be panicking are the government, and I believe that, you know, the sooner they clear up this mess, and get retail workers and HGV drivers on to the key worker list, the better.”
Mr Kwarteng responded: “He was right to say shoppers shouldn’t be panicking.
“I don’t quite know what he meant that the Government should be panicking, I’m not panicking.”
The rules surrounding self-isolation following contact with someone who is Covid-positive are not due to change until 16 August.
A wide number of businesses and industries have been impacted by staff shortages in recent weeks.
Transport for London was forced to close the Metropolitan Line on the Underground network due to staff being told to isolate by the app.
Restaurants, pubs and bars have also struggled with staff shortages.
Up to a fifth of workers in companies are having to self-isolate after receiving a notification, and the number of people notified by the app in England and Wales recently passed 500,000 in a single week.
Car giant Nissan has been affected at its plant in Sunderland and a spokesman for the British Meat Processors Association said some of its members had seen between 5-10 per cent of their workforce ‘pinged’ by the app.