By Joe Harker
While pubs, restaurants and some shops are shutting their doors due to the coronavirus the supermarkets are staying open and more important than ever.
People are advised to stay indoors as much as possible but they cannot avoid going to the supermarket for food and essentials, leading to empty shelves and peculiar shopping habits.
Toilet roll is in high demand but many more shelves are becoming bare as people buy more than they need and put a strain on supply chains designed to cope with normal levels of demand.
The weekend saw thousands of Brits queuing up outside supermarkets as crowds flocked to the shops and ignored social distancing guidelines to stay two metres apart.
One Tesco had to shut the doors after shoppers stormed the supermarket during an hour reserved for NHS staff, leading them to operate on a "one in, one out" policy to prevent too many people getting in at one time.
Government figures have urged the public to stop panic buying, with MPs and ministers telling people that they need to be more calm and considerate when they do their shopping.
While ministers and supermarkets have said supply chains can cope as long as people continue to shop as normal it appears as though people are buying far more than they need.
Supermarkets run on "just in time" supply chains which mean goods spend as little time sitting around in a warehouse as possible, they get onto the shelves just in time to replace what has been bought.
Environment secretary George Eustice said everyone buying more than they needed was leaving others at risk of having to go without. People having to work long, irregular hours such as NHS staff were particularly vulnerable to turning up at the supermarket and not being able to buy what they need.
Panic buying is clearly having an impact on the supermarkets, they are struggling to keep up with high levels of demand amidst new shopping habits.
The Counter Claim:
Professor Stephen Reicher said panic buying had become a self-fulfilling prophecy and explained that people who hear that there will be panic buyers become just that themselves.
He said that almost nobody thinks of themselves as a panic buyer, instead considering themselves to be sensible stockpilers who are buying more than they need just in case it becomes important later.
To their minds they're not panicking and buying as much food and toilet paper as they can get their hands on.
They are instead seeing everyone else buying as much food and toilet paper as they can get their hands on and stockpiling to avoid a scenario where they need something and can't get it because the panic buyers have taken the lot.
People hear about panic buying, see empty shelves and think the sensible thing to do is buy a little extra. They become panic buyers, turning into "competing individuals" at a time when they need to be coming together as a community more than ever.
The British Retail Consortium reports there is £1 billion more worth of food in the public's houses than three weeks ago.
Antibacterial handwash products and toilet roll are among the items most purchased, while long life milk, pasta and tinned vegetables have also been flying off the shelves.
Supermarkets have responded by cutting the number of products they stock, focusing on the things in the highest demand and asking manufacturers to cut down on the number of less needed products they make.
Competition laws are being relaxed to allow supermarkets to compare data and work out what people need most. It's not a time for the big retailers to be outdoing each other, it's a time for them to provide a public service as the place where people get their food from.
Customers have been given item limits which vary depending on the supermarket they are in. People can only buy between two and four of any product, with tighter restrictions on the more in-demand products.
The government and supermarkets are sure that if people behave normally then the supply chains will continue to work as they should and shoppers will have no problem buying what they need.