Supermarkets prepare for ‘food riots’
UK supermarkets could face food riots if a coronavirus pandemic were to be declared, a retail expert has warned.
Bruno Monteyne, former supply chain director for Tesco, which is Britain's biggest supermarket chain, said a widespread outbreak of COVID-19 would place immense pressure on supermarkets.
It comes as photos are already emerging of UK supermarket shelves stripped of food items like pasta and hand sanitiser.
In Australia supermarkets have struggled to cope as shoppers panic buy toilet paper amid fears a coronavirus outbreak could impact supply.
'PANIC BUYING, EMPTY SHELVES AND FOOD RIOTS'
Mr Monteyne now works as an analyst at investment firm Alliance Bernstein and has detailed supermarkets' contingency plans in a letter to investors, reports The Guardian.
There would be "panic buying, empty shelves and food riots" and supermarkets would need to resort to a "feed the nation" plan which would focus on maintaining staple product supplies, he said.
"Yes, it will be chaotic (and expect pictures of empty shelves)," Mr Monteyne said. "But the industry will reduce complexity to keep the country fed."
Reducing "complexity" will likely mean convenience products like ready to eat meals will no longer be a priority.
Food prices are unlikely to rise because "retailers cannot be seen to be profiteering at a moment of crisis", he added.
If severe food shortages were to occur Mr Monteyne predicted the army would be used to
"protect depots, food trucks and stores".
Tesco had already run "multiday simulation" exercises to prepare for this threat.
'NOT A PARACETAMOL IN SIGHT'
In photos eerily similar to what's already happened in Australia, UK shoppers are taking to social media to share how supermarkets are already being stripped of essential items.
"Mum just got back from Tesco shopping, it's like the weekend before Christmas!! Pasta shelves almost empty and not a paracetamol in sight!!" one person shared on Twitter.
Another person shared a photo of an empty handwash section at their local store, joking that it was like "everyone's just realised they should wash their hands".
Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has tried to reassure panicked buyers that he will keep the country fed.
He is expected to unveil a more detailed plan for combating the spread of the virus with 116 reported cases and the first death.
Britain is still trying to contain the outbreak, but is moving towards implementing an action plan to delay its spread until the warmer months.
The state-run health service is currently under strain as it deals with winter outbreaks of flu and norovirus.
"The situation is pretty much as it has been in the sense that we are still in the contain phase, though now our scientists and medical advisers are making preparations for the delay phase," Johnson said.
"What they are looking at in the next few days, in the near future, is what kind of measures might be necessary to retard the spread of the disease.
"As soon as they've decided that the moment is right to announce those, we will be absolutely clear with the public about what needs to be done. But for the moment things are as they have been."
Measures to be introduced when the virus spreads could include asking people to work from home, reducing large gatherings such as football matches and shutting schools.
Australia's supermarkets have been overwhelmed by panic-buying shoppers this week, with photos of customers loading up their trolleys with dozens of toilet rolls at a Costco going viral.
Scores of people have reported chaotic scenes at their supermarket, with footage of frenzied customers rushing for toilet paper at a Woolworths in the Sydney suburb of Revesby.
Supermarkets have now had to introduce limits on essential items with restrictions on the amount of rice, long life milk, toilet paper, hand sanitister and eggs.
- With AFP