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The environment secretary has urged panic buyers to “be responsible” and stop panic buying and the coronavirus outbreak continues. 

Scenes of empty shelves and huge queues outside of supermarkets have dominated coverage of Covid-19 across the UK, with restrictions places on certain items such as toilet roll. 

“Be responsible when you shop and think of others. Buying more than you need means others may be left without and it is making life harder for frontline workers,” said George Eustice, secretary of state for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Stephen Powis, national medical director at NHS England, said people should be “ashamed” of themselves for panic-buying, and urged people to think of struggling NHS staff.

“I would like to make a plea on behalf of all my colleagues in the NHS, nurses, doctors, paramedics and many, many others who are working incredibly hard at the moment to manage this outbreak of coronavirus,” he said.

“It’s incredibly important that they too have access to food, to those essential supplies that they need.”

Food manufacturing in the UK is up by 50%, it was revealed during the press conference held at Downing Street on Saturday afternoon. 

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said she wanted to reassure people that those “right across the food industry… are doing everything they can to ensure that we have the food we all need.”

The increased demand had been so severe, Dickinson explained, that there had been a peak in demand “like Christmas... without the four-month build-up period.” 

She added: “There is plenty of food in the supply chain.

“The issue is around people and lorries, so getting that food right into the front line onto our shelves, which is why we’ve seen some shortages.

“There is a billion pounds more food in people’s houses than there was three weeks ago, so we should make sure we eat some of it.”

When asked if rationing would be necessary, Eustice repeatedly stated that it would be a matter for supermarkets to determine whether or not limits would have to be imposed on products. 

Asked about possible military involvement in the supply chain, the environment secretary said: “We are obviously giving increasing thought within government over how we will protect those who may be self-isolating because they are vulnerable and I know more will be said about this in due course.”

When it came to social distancing, Powis said it was “absolutely crucial” that “everybody” followed advice on reducing social contact.

He said: “It’s not for somebody else to follow, it’s for you to follow, it’s for me to follow, it’s for everybody to follow.

“This is all our problem and if we do it together, it will be an effective strategy.

“If you do it, you follow the advice, you will be saving somebody’s life.

“This is the time in your lifetime whereby your action can save somebody’s life. It is as simple and as stark as that.”

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