Online supermarket shopping ban on new accounts to thwart coronavirus panic buying

Hundreds of people queued outside UK supermarkets on Sunday to try to get supplies

Supermarkets are banning new customers from online deliveries as they prioritise their elderly and vulnerable users in a bid to combat panic buying.

Hundreds of people queued outside supermarkets on Sunday to try to get supplies, with shelves being cleared by shoppers fearing they will be forced to self-isolate.

The pressure on stores in the coronavirus outbreak has led to fears of looting, with Essex Police revealing they had arrested three men for burglary after a "large quantity of hand sanitiser and toilet rolls" were stolen over the weekend.

Last week a Sainsbury's in south London had its window smashed before it was raided for alcohol, and there have been reports of allotments being targeted by thieves.

Most big stores have already introduced limits on how many items shoppers can purchase in order to stem the tide of panic buying.

The pressure in store is likely to intensify as online deliveries are overwhelmed. Sainsbury's and Ocado have closed their delivery services to new registrations because of a spike in demand.

Iceland said it was "temporarily limiting online orders to customers who are over state pension age, self-isolating and other vulnerable people, such as the disabled".

For stores such as Tesco that are still allowing new customers to register, all their available delivery slots, which run until April, have already been booked.  

Many stores have introduced "golden hours" for the elderly and vulnerable, as well as NHS staff, to ensure that those most in need can get supplies.

However, as people queued around supermarket car parks before stores even opened on Sunday, there were warnings that NHS IDs were not being checked, leaving the allocation of time useless.

One NHS worker, Sian Emmett, said it was "good in theory" but there was "no checking of NHS ID" in her local Tesco, and "shelves [were] empty because the general public have been in since 9am emptying the shelves, trolleys full. Too many people had to leave without anything because of social distancing".

A Tesco store in Cambridgeshire was forced to shut after shoppers caused "bedlam" by invading the hour set aside for NHS staff.

The shop in Milton, near Cambridge, had to start operating a one-in one-out policy from 10.15am after hundreds of members of the general public started shopping too early and the store quickly became full to capacity.

The supermarket had set aside a dedicated shopping hour for NHS staff between 9am and 10am, and for the first half-hour it asked shoppers for ID.

But after 9.30am no checks were carried out and hundreds of other customers came into the store and, as the aisles filled with queuing  shoppers, the supermarket had to shut its doors.

George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, this weekend called on shoppers to "be responsible" and think of others. He said there was more than enough food to go around and that panic buying put an unnecessary strain on shops that are struggling to keep shelves stocked.

 

There were calls for Sunday trading laws to be relaxed after some of those in need found they were allowed into stores earlier but could not make purchases until after 10am.

As demand increases, retailers such as Tesco and Ocado have dropped promotions, whilst smaller independent stores have reportedly hiked their prices.

One intensive care nurse hit out at "selfish" people stockpiling as she warned it would lead to deaths from starvation. Michelle Meggitt, who had just finished a 12-hour shift at 8am, met an 82-year-old woman who had been unable to get basic supplies for days. 

She said: "The old lady was in tears in eyes and said: 'In World War Two, I could get more food than this.'"