Ways To Shop During The Coronavirus Outbreak Without Putting Others At Risk

by Isobel Lewis and L'Oréal Blackett
Originally Published: 

With more and more cases of COVID-19 in the UK, it’s likely you’ve seen, either first hand or through a viral tweet, empty supermarket shelves as shoppers stockpile in preparation for possible self-isolation. But with the government warning against panic-buying, it can be hard to know what to actually stock up on. So here's how to shop sensibly during the UK coronavirus outbreak.

Why Do People Stockpile?

Mira Kopolovic, a senior social scientist at Canvas8 explained that stockpiling can be a way for people to feel more in control in uncertain times. “Stockpiling is a great way to exercise a feeling of power and autonomy in a world that feels increasingly beyond our control,” Mira Kopolovic, she explains.

She continued: “When we face an ambiguous threat, these heightened feelings of uncertainty increase people’s reliance on emotions across all decision-making in their lives – not just those that are directly impacted by the situation. So when a global pandemic comes around, all our decisions take on this emotional influence.”

What Do I Actually Need?

The disclaimer that goes with any discussion about stockpiling during the Covid-19 outbreaker is this: everything in moderation. Public Health England has said that there is no reason to stockpile supplies, but that being said, cleanliness is still key when it comes to preventing the virus from spreading and keeping the outbreak at bay.

For good hygiene practice, making sure that you have a normal supply of tissues (to immediately throw away after use), soap/hand sanitiser and antibacterial household cleaner can help you from passing any illness along to anyone you share your home space with. Focus on the word “normal” here — put that 20-pack of loo roll down immediately.

When it comes to food, it’s also worth being sensible. Having long life foods like tinned tomatoes, pasta and rice in your cupboard will always do you well, but you should be mindful that buying excessively will prevent others from accessing what they need. With all the COVID-19 worry, it’s easy to forget that we’re also in a climate crisis, so unnecessary food waste is a bad idea.

Self storage experts Space Station suggest that people opt for frozen food while preparing for self isolation and keep fruit such as bananas, avocados and tomatoes away from other food to prevent it from going off.

One expert told The Times that it’s also worth making sure you have a fair supply of any prescription medication needed as a sensible precaution.

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What Are The Dangers Of Stockpiling?

Obviously it’s annoying when you pop down the shops, only to find bare shelves where the essentials you wanted once were. But stockpiling has an even worse effect on some of the most vulnerable people in our society, which is pretty worrying.

The elderly and people with pre-existing health conditions are some of those most at risk from the virus, but they also tend to be those who will struggle to get to supermarkets frequently, shop online, or travel between stores in search of necessities. In taking excessive amounts of vital supplies, stockpilers could be preventing someone who really needs it from accessing them.

British supermarkets, including Iceland and Lidl, have responded to stockpiling by introducing dedicated shopping hours for their elderly customers. Pensioners are now able to stock up on goods before general admittance to the rest of the public.

Stockpiling also affects NHS emergency service workers, care-workers and others on the frontline working long hours to tackle the virus outbreak. NHS critical care nurse, Dawn Bilbrough, pleaded with stockpilers to “stop it” after she discovered no fruit or veg in the supermarket after a 48-hour shift. In an emotional video, she shared concerns that she doesn’t know how she can stay healthy if people keep “stripping the shelves of basic foods.” “It’s people like me who are going to be looking after you when you’re at your lowest, so just stop it. Please,” she added.

As reported in The Guardian, food banks are also suffering due to hoarding of products, and have said that they are running out of staples such as UHT milk, tinned fish and cereal. At one London food banks, donations from shoppers at Sainsbury’s and Waitrose fell by a whopping 75%, while a number of tweets have gone viral encouraging those who can afford to to still donate.

“Panic is going to be more dangerous than the virus,” chair of Kirkcaldy food bank Joyce Leggate told The Guardian. “Our food parcels are essential for the health of many of the people we support. The food can be a lifeline. Please, if you are stockpiling, have a look and say: ‘Am I really going to use this?’ If not, is there someone who needs it more?”

Can I Still Get Food Delivered?

Many people are stockpiling based on the idea that they will be stuck in quarantine for two weeks without any access to the outside world. However, this is unlikely to be the case.

The NHS has said that people who need to self-isolate should ask friends, family or neighbours to supply foods for them. You can also order with a supermarket delivery service, provided that you tell the couriers in advance to deliver to your doorstep and take extra precautions when receiving your delivery

In fact, the government has said that round-the-clock food delivery services could be introduced to supply food should elderly people be told to self-isolate.

Large supermarkets such as Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s are still offering their online delivery services yet with some restrictions. Tesco asks its customers to go to physical stores to free up delivery slots for vulnerable customers. Similarly, Asda has asked customers to choose less-popular delivery times. Ocado, meanwhile, has been forced to temporarily suspend its delivery service after being unable to keep up with demand. The Guardian reports that when it reopens on Saturday, March 21 it may ration or restrict products.

Takeaway deliveries are still also an option. Per Reuters, Deliveroo users can request a “contactless” drop off service where riders will leave food on the doorstep to minimise the chance of the disease spreading. Meanwhile, many restaurants and bars that are being affected by increased social distancing measures are now offering deliveries to local areas, so it could be a good way to get fed and support businesses near you.

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If you or someone you’ve been in close contact with appears to have shown or be showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and coughing, visit the NHS website in the UK to find out the next steps you should take or visit the CDC website in the U.S. for up-to-date information and resources. You can find all Bustle’s coverage of coronavirus here, and UK-specific updates on coronavirus here.

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