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Coronavirus Kent: Panic buying forces supermarkets in Canterbury, Herne Bay and Whitstable to offer exclusive shopping hours for pensioners

Panic buying and hoarding shoppers across Kent have been branded 'disgusting and selfish' by pensioners who have found supermarket shelves stripped bare.

It follows scenes of packed shopping aisles, overloaded trollies and reports of a rush in sales of freezers as some householders stockpile with extra supplies in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

“It’s disgusting and really is so selfish when people like us who cannot get out so easily, find nothing left," said 74-year-old widow Helen Christie, from Swalecliffe.

Like others over 70, she has been advised to self-isolate at home for 12 weeks where possible to avoid catching the infection but still needs groceries to get by.

She was shopping at Iceland in Whitstable this morning which opened at 9am with a special two-hour exclusive session for pensioners.

“Everywhere I’ve been, the shelves have been emptied by panic buyers,” she said.

“If it carries on like this, they should introduce rationing like they did in the war.”

Helen Christie outside Iceland in Whitstable
Helen Christie outside Iceland in Whitstable

Meanwhile, other shoppers face restrictions in the volume of other purchases like soaps, hand washes, tissues, cleaning products, rice, pasta and longlife milk.

Also queuing outside Iceland was 67-year-Mike Chadwick, from Tankerton, who was furious at the behaviour of panic buyers.

“I’ve been horrified by what people are doing, which is just so selfish," he said.

“It makes me so angry because the fact is that it’s unnecessary to hoard and there is plenty to go round if people just behave in a civilised manner.

“I feel sorry for the checkout staff who’ve had to put up with the behaviour.

Mike Chadwick outside Iceland in Whitstable
Mike Chadwick outside Iceland in Whitstable

“I think what Iceland is doing is brilliant and every supermarket should be doing it for the elderly and disabled, because when people are emptying the shelves, we need some support."

Another Iceland shopper taking advantage of the session was 75-year-old Gilly Johnson who said she had to leave a supermarket for fear of being shoved over by panic-buying shoppers.

“I was standing by some shelves when this huge great man just reached over me to snatch something," she said. "I thought, that’s it, I’m leaving, because it wouldn’t take much to knock me over.”

They were among a queue of more than 50 pensioners outside Iceland, anxious to take advantage of the exclusive shopping.

The queue of pensioners outside Iceland in Whitstable
The queue of pensioners outside Iceland in Whitstable

Store supervisor Christina Champion, spoke to KentOnline as the store opened this morning.

“It’s clearly been very well received and shows there is the demand from those people who cannot get out of town to the big stores," she said.

“We will do the same from 10am tomorrow after we have had a big delivery and are able to restock our shelves.”

Iceland Whitstable supervisor Christina Champion
Iceland Whitstable supervisor Christina Champion

Yet to allocate special opening times is Asda, where dozens were already queuing this morning ahead of its 6am opening.

As many as 70 people were seen waiting for staff to open the doors, but despite attempting to beat the rush they were still met with a shortage of essentials such as canned goods, pasta and meat.

In an attempt to prevent the shop from being emptied, staff were enforcing a three-item limit on purchases.

But 47-year-old James Barnden, who was visiting the store to buy porridge pots and crisps on his way to work, said: "To come in this morning and actually find people queuing to go in is astonishing.

"The queue was a quarter of the way back up the car park; I reckon there must have been a good 60 to 70 people.

James Barnden estimates that there were as many as 70 people queuing outside Asda at 6am on Wednesday
James Barnden estimates that there were as many as 70 people queuing outside Asda at 6am on Wednesday

"A lot of people are buying alcohol, believe it or not. When you speak to a lot of people, they seem to be looking for the same things – toilets rolls, etc."

Canterbury glazier Steve Meech, 50, branded many shoppers' decisions to bulk-buy items "selfish", adding: "It's a sad indictment of humanity that we’re actually stooping to this level.

"I’ve never seen it like this. I come here every day on my way into work to get some lunch and the car park’s my own, the store’s my own – it just has people stacking shelves.

"The world’s gone mad; the car park’s full, the shop’s full and the shelves are empty."

Canterbury glazier Steve Meech says the panic buying is a "sad indictment of humanity"
Canterbury glazier Steve Meech says the panic buying is a "sad indictment of humanity"

Shoppers also gathered outside Sainsbury's in Kingsmead Road and the Lidl in Sturry Road before they opened at 7am and 8am respectively.

As the doors to the former were unlocked, staff could be heard telling customers to enter in single file because there had been a "mad rush" to enter the day before.

One shopper, 58, told KentOnline: "I’m literally trying to get in before the shelves are emptied. The last time I came here it was 10.30am-11am, and everything was gone.

"I’ve been doing little bits of shopping – rather than stockpiling – but I’ve noticed it’s just getting harder and harder to get anything.

"Because my husband and I are in that older age bracket, you can’t help but panic. We don’t know if we’re going to be in lockdown for ages. It’s a little bit worrying."

At Aldi, the restriction to four items on all products came into effect on Saturday.

The move was announced on the chain’s social media pages and has been widely praised by customers.

Meanwhile, Tesco, which has a large store in Whitstable, has introduced a maximum purchase limit of two items per customer on a few items, including anti-bacterial products, dried pasta, tinned vegetables, toilet roll, tissues and UHT milk.

Sainsbury's is set to follow suit on Thursday morning and open an hour early for elderly and vulnerable shoppers.

Many of the shelves were empty when the doors to Asda opened on Wednesday morning
Many of the shelves were empty when the doors to Asda opened on Wednesday morning

It has also limited customers to five soaps, hand washes, tissues, cleaning products, rice, pasta and UHT milk, and just two packets of pain relief.

All branches are to set aside their first hour of trading for the exclusive use of elderly and vulnerable shoppers.

Sainsbury's chief executive Mike Coupe says online customers aged 70 or over, or with disabilities, will also be given priority access to online delivery slots.

Those people will be contacted in the next few days with details about how to use the service.

Starting the same week the number of ‘click and collect’ sites will be “significantly increased” so shoppers can pick up goods from a car park collection point.

Mr Coupe said: "Please think before you buy and only buy what you and your family need.

“If we all do this then we can make sure we have enough for everyone."

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