Major UK Supermarkets Impose Coronavirus Rationing

At the start of the pandemic, particularly in March and April, the UK saw supermarket shelves emptied of essentials like toilet paper, pasta, flour, tinned foods, and medicines, leading food retailers to strictly limit purchases of such items for months. The panic-buying coincided with increasing warnings from the government over the possibility of a lockdown, with restrictions put in place on March 23rd.

The government and media have been reporting since earlier this month on the rising number of infections, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson announcing fresh social distancing restrictions on September 9th. In anticipation that Boris Johnson’s government was about to impose another set of rules, or even a second lockdown, media reported on Monday that in recent days some supermarkets were seeing a repeat of runs of certain items. Toilet roll purchases have seen a 23 per cent increase in one week, for example.

London local newspaper the Sutton and Croydon Guardian observed that Asda shoppers in South London had already started emptying shelves that weekend. A Tesco in Portsmouth also allegedly was running low on toilet paper, with The Telegraph stating that social media was strewn with similar reports across the country, including Blackburn and Newport in Lancashire.

Pointing to the prime minister’s recent announcements as the catalyst for panicking British shoppers, Newport councillor Peter Scott told residents: “There is absolutely no need to panic buy anything. Nothing has changed since the Prime Minister’s broadcast.

“We are not short of anything. I would ask everyone to apply some common sense. No need to stock up.”

On Thursday, Morrisons announced that it would be reinstating limits on the number of purchases of items like hand sanitiser, soap, toilet roll, and children’s medicine like Calpol.

“Our stock levels of these products are good, but we want to ensure that they are available for everyone,” a Morrisons spokesman told The Guardian. On Friday, Tesco announced similar restrictions, putting a three-item limit on items such as toilet roll, flour, and dried pasta.

While the British Retail Consortium and supermarkets have said they are better prepared this time around for a rush on essentials, Tesco had earlier this week urged against panic buying which “creates a tension in the supply chain that’s not necessary”.

Fear over coronavirus and support for new restrictions remains high amongst Britons. A YouGov poll reported by LBC this week revealed that 78 per cent of Britons support the prime minister’s latest set of measures to curtail the freedoms of citizens, with almost half of those in support (45 per cent) saying that the steps did not go far enough. Earlier this month 73 per cent of Britons told YouGov pollster that they were worried about a second wave, with 74 per cent in a separate poll saying that they do not think Britons have taken the pandemic seriously enough.

However, this was not always the case, and fear may have been by design.

A poll from March 13th found most people were unconcerned over catching coronavirus. An official government briefing document dated March 22nd found a lack of fear to be problematic, noting: A substantial number of people still do not feel sufficiently personally threatened.”

“The perceived level of personal threat needs to be increased among those who are complacent, using hard-hitting emotional messaging,” the document recommended.