Supermarkets, shops and off-licences could soon run out of wine and beer amid an unprecedented demand for alcohol ahead of an anticipated Covid-19 lockdown.
Shoppers looking for their favourite tipple were greeted with empty shelves in many areas as customers stockpiled following the closure of all pubs, bars and restaurants at the weekend.
Majestic Wine’s website crashed as shoppers inundated the retailer with orders for cases of red and white to get them through the isolation of a shutdown.
It led to fears that the country could soon run out of alcohol with importers prioritising food and other essentials over wine and beer.
Industry experts have insisted there are enough supplies in the system, but last night urged the Government to change licensing rules to allow stock intended for pubs and restaurants to be sold to shops or even directly to the public.
Miles Beale from the Wine and Spirits Trade Association said: “There are some complicated licensing rules around supplying the on and off trade. We are urging the government to waive those rules to allow demand to be met.”
A government spokesman said: "Retailers are continuing to monitor their supply chains and taking all the necessary steps to ensure consumers have the food, drink and supplies they need.”
It comes as the Government began working on plans to launch an advertising blitz to discourage people from panic buying.
Based on the ‘Get Ready for Brexit' campaign, which urged people to prepare for Britain’s departure from the European Union, the drive will include TV and radio ads as well as billboard and leafleting.
The campaign will warn people of the impact of selfish stockpiling and will aim to reassure the public that there is enough food, drink and other essential supplies to go around if they remain sensible.
As part of the government campaign, adverts will also remind people of the need to be community minded during the Covid-19 crisis and to think of vulnerable neighbours, who may need help stocking up on essentials.
The ambitious campaign will be overseen by Chris Tyas, a former Nestle executive, who has been brought in by the Government to act as ‘food security tsar’.
Mr Tyas, who ran Nestle’s food supply chain for five years, will work alongside senior figures within DEFRA to ensure stocks keep reaching supermarket shelves as the country prepares to go into complete lockdown.
The advertising blitz will run alongside a public information campaign intended to advise the public on what to look out for and how to act if they suspect they have contracted coronavirus.
Number 10 decided to launch the drive after the public appeared to be ignoring warnings about panic buying.
Despite repeated appeals for people to remain sensible when shopping, supermarkets have continued to be inundated with people clearing the shelves almost as quickly as they can be restocked.
Despite the fears over panic buying, new research suggested only three percent of all buyers are technically stockpilers.
Data produced by Kantar suggested shortages had been caused by people adding a few extra items to their baskets, which they do not typically buy, and making more trips, rather than buying large amounts of the same item in one go.
But at the weekend huge queues continued to appear outside some of the largest stores, with hundreds of people ignoring social distancing warnings in their desperation to fill their trolleys.
Some supermarkets have introduced rationing and priority hours for the elderly and NHS staff.
But a source said it was also felt the message warning against panic buying needed to be “hammered home” if the country is to get through the crisis without severe shortages.
The source told the Telegraph: “It had been hoped that panic buying would subside as time went on, but it is showing no sign of abating despite the warnings about the need to exercise social distancing.
“It is felt the message needs to be hammered home along with a timely reminder to think about others in your community, especially the vulnerable, we are all in this together and the government wants people to remember that.”
A Whitehall source confirmed that an advertising campaign being drawn up by Downing Street would include messages to help quell fears over food shortages and discourage panic buying.
The public information drive will also include calls for people to "consider your elderly relatives and friends", the source added, with communities encouraged to offer assistance to neighbours forced to self-isolate.