Covid: Shoppers being told ‘don’t panic buy’ - but British Retail Consortium warn some stores could be forced to close due to staff shortages

Some shops will be forced to close due to the rising number of retail workers being forced to self-isolate, according to the British Retail Consortium.

Thursday, 22nd July 2021, 10:37 am

Many of Thursday's newspaper front pages showed images of empty shelves in supermarket – amid reports of customers panic-buying certain items.

On Wednesday, bottled water shelves were empty at Morrisons at The Gyle in Edinburgh, with similar scenes in the water section at Lidl in Granton.

Other pictures showed a cleared out frozen food section and empty sliced cheese shelves at Sainsbury's Craigleith branch.

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Clockwise from top left: Fruit and pastries freezers empty at Sainsbury's in Craigleith; bottled water shelves empty at Lidl in Granton, sliced cheese shelves empty at Morrisons at The Gyle.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, told BBC Breakfast: “There will be many smaller businesses where if they only have one or two staff and they need to self-isolate, then that’s them needing to close their doors completely.

“What is the most important thing is that people don’t panic because there’s no need to panic, because there’s plenty of food in the country.”

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Meanwhile, the managing director of Iceland has said staff absence rates are now double the usual number, with the figure rising 50% “week on week” due to people being told to self-isolate.

Richard Walker told the Radio 4’s Today programme: “We’ve now got over 1,000 staff off, who are who’ve been pinged. That’s double the normal rates, and it’s rising at 50% week on week.

“Our big concern is that we’ve kept all of our shops open throughout the pandemic, but now we have had to close one or two shops and reduce hours in others.

“But that could get a lot worse a lot quicker, unless the country’s system is sorted out.”

Mr Walker urged shoppers not to panic buy, saying: “There is certainly no problem with supply of stock.

“Panic-buying is only an option for those who can afford it and it often means that others go without.”

Mr Walker has urged the UK Government to come up with a key worker list that would allow food supply chain staff to avoid self-isolation even if they get pinged by the NHS Track and Trace app.

He said: “We’re in quite a serious situation that we need to sort out quickly.

“Just like at the start of the pandemic when (the Government) came up with a keyworkers list, why can’t we do that now?”

Mr Walker continued: “We are taking matters into our own hands in terms of recruitment because we simply don’t have time to wait for the Government to sort this out, therefore we’re recruiting 2,000 new workers.

“These aren’t permanent jobs, they’re temporary jobs, but that’s to give us a deeper pool of labour to prepare ourselves for the exponential rise in pinging.

“Now, the Government says it wants to make sure that critical services can function well. I believe we are a critical service and we’re going to struggle to function.”

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said he was not panicking over the supermarket shortages.

Asked about a warning from Iceland’s managing director, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “He was right to say shoppers shouldn’t be panicking.

“I don’t quite know what he meant that the Government should be panicking, I’m not panicking.”

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