MPs in plea to government over UK’s Covid-19 stockpiling | World news


MPs, academics, charities and those who work with vulnerable people are piling pressure on the government to ensure food and other essentials are reaching those most in need as concerns over the consequences of rampant stockpiling grow.

One hundred and fifty cross-party MPs and peers have written to the government asking for it to “show the direction and leadership necessary” to make sure food supplies are available for all NHS, emergency and essential workers.

Anna McMorrin 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿🇪🇺🕷
(@AnnaMcMorrin)

Panic buying means those on the frontline saving lives & working shifts to keep food on shelves are going without.

These are unprecedented times. Over 150 colleagues & I are calling for the Business Sec & retailers to do whatever it takes to ensure no one is left behind #COVID19 pic.twitter.com/dZz0Ijgp00


March 21, 2020

Charities working with vulnerable groups have also said they are becoming increasingly concerned that many people are facing real food shortages because they have no access to stores and online shopping slots are booked weeks in advance. Many of those who can access food are struggling to pay for the few things that are available because the cheaper options are often the ones that have disappeared from shelves.

“We urge the government to bring all the major retailers together to develop a coordinated approach,” said the Salvation Army’s leader in the UK and Ireland, Commissioner Anthony Cotterill. “Measures are urgently needed, in both urban and rural areas, to help older people and key workers access the groceries they need to remain healthy.”

He said the church and charity was deeply concerned that supplies to food banks across the UK were drying up as demand was anticipated to hit an all-time high.

Age UK expressed similar concerns, saying it was “deeply worrying” that the problem of stockpiling was not going away despite the measures supermarkets had taken to try to address the issues, such as introducing pensioner-only hours in stores.If they [the measures] are not [enough] then the government needs to come forward very quickly with a firm and effective response, otherwise there’s a growing risk that some older people will be left without the essentials they need,” said Caroline Abrahams, the charity director at Age UK.

This weekend many of the supermarkets announced additional measures to those already in place to try and help more vulnerable groups. These include:

  • Sainsbury’s has launched a regular shopping hour for NHS staff, elderly and vulnerable customers between 8am and 9am every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

  • Morrisons is taking on 500 charity shop workers to help vulnerable shoppers.

  • Iceland is temporarily limiting online orders to customers who are over state pension age, self-isolating and other vulnerable people such as disabled people.

  • From Sunday, Tesco is introducing a special hour in stores for NHS staff, which will continue every Sunday until further notice.

  • Waitrose has written to all its customers asking them to contact it via its website or email address in order to keep phone lines free for vulnerable customers to order food.

The letter from MPs, drafted by the Labour MP Anna McMorrin and addressed to Tory MP Alok Sharma, the business secretary, says: “A crisis of this magnitude calls on all of us to do whatever it takes to ensure no one is left behind. As members of parliament, we call on you to show leadership and urgently resolve this matter, whether that involves ringfencing supplies or shopping time for essential workers.”

The issue was brought to the attention of millions of people on Friday when a video of a nurse, Dawn Bilbrough, went viral. She filmed herself in her car, exhausted and crying, having just come out of a supermarket where she had been unable to buy any fresh fruit or vegetables.

“I’m a critical care nurse and I’ve just finished 48 hours of work and I just wanted to get some stuff in for the next 48 hours,” she said. “Those people who are just stripping the shelves of basic foods you just need to stop it because it’s people like me that are going to be looking after you when you are at your lowest and just stop it, please.”

However, so far this seems to have had little effect. Before 6am on Saturday hundreds of shoppers were filmed by a drone queueing round the block at supermarkets including all the way round the car park at a Tesco in New Malden. Other images posted on social media continued to show shelves stripped bare of essential goods and supplies such as milk, eggs, meat, toilet rolls and pasta.

People queue up outside a Costco wholesale outlet in Farnborough.



People queue up outside a Costco wholesale outlet in Farnborough. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images

Steve Livington, 58, who lives alone in Peacehaven, is in a wheelchair. He has a form of muscular dystrophy and always shops online. “Last week I went to order my Tesco delivery and there was nothing for three weeks, and then the same for Sainsbury’s and similarly for Asda,” he said. “I don’t have any local friends or family who can help and so I’m now starting to be really worried.”

Hannah Graham, a local group coordinator for the single-parent family charity Gingerbread, is self-isolating with her two children, six and nine, in Northwich. “I am still managing to get some food delivered online but all the own-brand goods I usually get because I am on a limited budget are now being substituted for premium brands,” she said. “I’m now less worried about the virus in the weeks ahead and more worried about being able to provide all the food and essentials my children and I need.”

Alexander Trautrims, an expert in logistics and supply chains at Nottingham University business school said it was understandable people were stockpiling in times of uncertainty but that there was no chance of the country running out of food. “There is enough supply in the system but the demand patterns have changed so much there may be local shortages while retailers react to these,” he said.

He said there needed to be stronger assurances from government to get this message across and that supermarket actions, instead of being reassuring, created panic as they were suggestive of a shortage.

“What would reassure people would be to see food parcels delivered to a neighbour’s door, for example,” Trautrims said. “When the time is right this [food parcel delivery infrastructure] needs to be established and controlled by the government.”

A government spokesperson said: “We are in regular contact with the food industry to ensure it is well prepared to deal with a range of scenarios. Retailers are continuing to monitor their supply chains and taking all the necessary steps to ensure consumers have the food and supplies they need.”






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