Coronavirus: British officials try to assure public to prevent panic buying

Sales in hand sanitiser, home food deliveries, toilet paper have surged amid outbeak fears

An employee selects items of shopping for home delivery at the Tesco Basildon Pitsea Extra supermarket, operated by Tesco Plc, in Basildon, U.K., on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015. Many European food retailers are coming to terms with persistently low inflation as well as consumers who remain frugal yet purchase food more frequently. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
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Britain’s most senior health minister attempted to assure the public on Friday after it emerged that people had been panic buying household provisions to cope with the coronavirus outbreak.

Panic buying that was first fuelled by the prospect of a no-deal Brexit has been further exacerbated by the breakout of the new virus, which has killed two people in Britain and been found in 163.

Pharmaceutical company Boots is limiting purchases of hand sanitiser to two bottles per customer and online grocer Ocado has advised customers to place food orders in advance due to the exceptionally high demand amid fears of home self-isolation.

Britons have also been stockpiling toilet paper, with fears that some shops could run out of loo roll.

One supermarket executive said sales of basic house hold items had "gone through the roof", before saying he was unsure the government could guarantee food supply in all instances.

But the government has advised against panic buying. Responding to a question about panic buying,  Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "The government has supplies of the key things that are needed. And within the food supply, we are absolutely confident that there won't be a problem there.”

"Crucially, we are working with the supermarkets to make sure that, if people are self-isolating, then we will be able to get the food and supplies that they need."

The government has promised £46 million (Dh219m) to fund urgent work to find a coronavirus vaccine and develop a test for the infection. The funding will include work on eight possible vaccines that already being developed as well as further research.

On Thursday, Britain’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty said the country was moving into the next stage of its response to the coronavirus outbreak, from trying to contain it to delay it. The UK wants to push the peak of the outbreak back to the summer months, giving officials valuable time to prepare and taking the pressure of the NHS, which is busier in winter due to other seasonal illnesses such as flu.