Britain tells shoppers to stop panic-buying

David HARDING
Panic buying has emptied the shelves in some stores

The British government on Saturday urged people to stop panic-buying during the coronavirus crisis, claiming there was enough food for everyone.

With supermarket shelves still being stripped of essential items, including toilet paper, officials said there was no need for panic.

"There's no risk of food running out," Environment Secretary George Eustice told reporters at the government's daily Downing Street briefing.

"The challenge we have is getting food to the shelves and keeping it there."

He told shoppers to "be responsible when you shop and think of others", warning that stockpiling items could leave others without crucial supplies.

When asked if the government would introduce rationing he said it was up to supermarkets to decide whether to limit purchasing of certain items.

The plea to stop panic-buying came as health department figures Saturday showed that 233 people have now died from COVID-19 in the UK, with the number of those testing positive for the virus standing at 5,018.

Health officials said it was crucial to ensure there was enough food for medical staff such as doctors and nurses who can only visit shops after long and late shifts.

"It's incredibly important that they have access to food," said Stephen Powis, National Medical Director of England's National Health Service.

He referred to a viral video posted this week by a tearful critical care nurse Dawn Bilbrough issuing a desperate plea for people to stop panic-buying.

"Frankly we should all be ashamed that has had to happen. It's unacceptable," he said.

On Friday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced tougher restrictions to fight the coronavirus outbreak, telling cafes, pubs, bars and restaurants to close.

Asked whether that would exacerbate panic shopping as there are fewer outlets to buy food, Eustice said he did not think it would.

The calls for more considerate shopping come as some politicians urged Londoners not to flee the city for the coast or countryside where the virus could spread further.

London is the worst affected by the coronavirus outbreak in Britain.

"Please do not travel to Cornwall, we do not want to spread this virus any further," local Conservative MP Steve Double said, referring to the popular coastal country in southwest England.

He said such journeys could "cost lives".