By Sarah Young and James Davey
LONDON (Reuters) – The UK said Saturday that people who panicked buying and hoarding groceries due to the outbreak of the coronavirus should calm down, referring to a social media video in which an exhausted nurse was moved to tears, when she found bare shelves after her shift.
Over the past week, shoppers have emptied shelves in many supermarkets. Some were fighting for toilet paper, others were hoarding everything from pasta to frozen peas when the government told people to stay home and avoid contact.
A billion pounds ($ 1.2 billion) of extra food has been thrown away in the last three weeks, putting massive pressure on supermarkets, the environment and Food Secretary George Eustice.
At a press conference, he asked people to "be responsible when you shop and think of others".
"There is more than enough food and our food supply chain can expand production to meet increasing demand," he said.
"Buying more than you need means that others may be without money, and it makes life difficult for frontline workers like our doctors and nurses, as well as NHS (National Health Service) employees."
A nurse's tears
Despite such appeals, not least from Prime Minister Boris Johnson and large supermarkets, shelves with meat, pasta, canned goods and toilet paper were empty in some London supermarkets on Saturday. Some had brought additional guards and set up special queues.
The government has lifted supermarket delivery restrictions to help stores cope with increased demand.
Competition rules have also been set up to allow supermarkets to share staff and delivery vehicles and coordinate opening hours to ensure that all parts of the UK are properly served.
The video posted by the intensive care nurse was shown in the BBC's national news.
"Honestly, we should all be ashamed of having to do this," said Stephen Powis, medical director of the NHS. "It is unacceptable. These are the people we will all need to look after us or our loved ones in the coming weeks."
Eustice said manufacturers have produced around 50% more food than usual in the past week.
"We don't think there is a risk of food running out," he said. "The challenge is to put groceries on the shelves and keep them there." ($ 1 = 0.8578 pounds)
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