Coronavirus fears spark panic buying as people clear shelves of hand sanitiser and toilet roll

Some shops have reported customers emptying shelves and ‘panic buying’ as fears over coronavirus grow.

Supermarkets are preparing for widespread bulk buying in the coming weeks, despite efforts from government officials to calm the public.

Do people need to stock up on supplies?

Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, said: “there is absolutely no reason to be doing any panic buying of any sort, or going out and keeping large supplies of things.”

In some stores, stocks of staple foods like rice and pasta are running low, and people are buying large amounts of beans, bottled water, and pet food.

Customers also seem to be increasingly concerned about preventing the spread of the disease, with hand-sanitiser products running low in some places.

But Vallance did concede that stockpiling might be needed in future, if measures like household quarantines are enforced.

“Clearly there will need to be measures in cases of household quarantine for making sure food is in the right place at the right time,” the chief adviser said, “but we imagine that could be a rolling case of household quarantine if that measure becomes necessary, and clearly things will need to be in place for care homes and so on if that decision is made.”

Are stocks running low?

Last week, Boots stores limited bottles of hand sanitiser to two per person, and in Edinburgh, the pharmacy chain had sold out completely.

And they are not the only chain placing restrictions on some items. Tesco and Waitrose have begun limiting the number of “essentials” customers can buy. People can now only buy five items like toilet rolls, bags of pasta, and some tinned foods, at a time in Tesco.

Waitrose have capped the number of hand wipes and sanitisers customers can buy on their website.

Delivery service Ocado told customers that due to a growing number of “particularly large orders”, home delivery slots were selling out more quickly than usual.

Do people need to stock up for self-isolation?

Some people are bulk buying supplies in anticipation of having to self-isolate.

If medical professionals suspect a member of the public may have coronavirus, they could require them to isolate themselves from friends, family and colleagues.

For food supplies, the government advises isolated people to order food online, but says that it is also okay for friends and family to deliver food parcels as long as they don’t come into contact with the isolated person.

How to self-isolate

The government has issued advice for anyone planning to self-isolate on how to do it successfully:

Stay in your home - do not go to work, school, or other public areas.Separate yourself from others in your home or accommodation.Do not have visitors - people coming to see you are at risk of infection.Use separate facilities - if sharing with housemates, these should be cleaned before use by others.Have food, medication, and other supplies delivered to you.Try to keep away from your pets - if unavoidable, wash your hands before and after contact with them.

Coronavirus: the facts

What is coronavirus?COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can affect lungs and airways. It is caused by a virus called coronavirus.

What caused coronavirus?The outbreak started in Wuhan in China in December 2019 and it is thought that the virus, like others of its kind, has come from animals.

How is it spread?As this is such a new illness, experts still aren’t sure how it is spread. But.similar viruses are spread in cough droplets. Therefore covering your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing, and disposing of used tissues straight away is advised. Viruses like coronavirus cannot live outside the body for very long.

What are the symptoms?The NHS states that the symptoms are: a dry cough, high temperature and shortness of breath - but these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness. Look out for flu-like symptoms, such as aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose and a sore throat. It’s important to remember that some people may become infected but won’t develop any symptoms or feel unwell.

What precautions can be taken?Washing your hands with soap and water thoroughly. The NHS also advises to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze; put used tissues in the bin immediately and try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell. Also avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth unless your hands are clean.

Should I avoid public places?Most people who feel well can continue to go to work, school and public places and should only stay at home and self isolate if advised by a medical professional or the coronavirus service.

What should I do if I feel unwell?Don’t go to your GP but instead call NHS 111 or look online at the coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and what to do next.

When to call NHS 111NHS 111 should be used if you feel unwell with coronavirus symptoms, have been in a country with a high risk of coronavirus in the last 14 days or if you have been in close contact with someone with the virus.

Sources: World Health Organisation and NHS