Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has spoken to two of the country’s biggest supermarkets about how they plan to continue delivering services to the community as shoppers panic buy and clear shelves amid coronavirus fears.
The prime minister consulted with supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths, as they continue to be emptied of a number of essential supplies, including basics tinned food and toilet paper, at an alarming rate.
Speaking at a press conference on March 3, Morrison said he had no concerns about the major supermarkets and that they will continue to deliver services as normal to the Australian community.
“Just before coming into this press conference earlier today, I spoke to both Coles and Woolworths, just to get an update on their arrangements, and I appreciate their response and the steps they are taking to assure people and their own customers,” Morrison said.
“They would send the same message I am sending you today. It is important that people just go about their business and their normal processes in a calm manner.
“They had spoken to me about the arrangements they have in place around their supply lines and things like this, but I would just urge people to be going about their business in the normal way when it comes to those matters.
There are obviously some lines which will be more tested in the short term, but they’re working on those,” he added.
Woolworths said it had seen a sharp increase in demand for long-life food, pantry items, and household staples in its supermarkets, while Coles said there was a shortage of some antibacterial handwashes and hand sanitiser products due to the high demand.
Images circulating on social media show empty shelves and shortages on essential items as panicked customers flock to stores to stock up on items. However, a spokesperson for Woolworths said it has a”good stock levels to draw on in our distribution centres and will continue working closely with our suppliers to maintain supply.”
A spokesperson for Coles said it has “increased the number of deliveries to stores this week to improve availability on popular products, such as long-life pantry staples and healthcare items,” and will continue to work with its suppliers to maintain availability for customers.
Australian Retailers Association executive director, Russell Zimmerman, told Sky News on Sunday that there was no “absolutely no need to panic buy” as the major supermarkets have high levels of stock.
Morrison added that Australian manufacturers of toilet paper, Kimberly Clark, have “now opened up their line of manufacturing in South Australia.”
“I’m sure that will come as a great relief to everybody,” he said, as photos of empty toilet paper shelves circulated on social media. “The prolific nature of this is by being presented on social media and things like that is not as widespread as those images suggest.”
Following the Reserve Bank’s decision to cut interest rates to 0.5 percent, Morrison said that the Treasury is currently working with other agencies to announce a plan to boost the economy.
“It will be a targeted plan. It will be a measured plan. It will be a scalable plan,” he said.
So far, Australia has seen 35 cases of COVID-19, 21 of which have fully recovered and one who has died. Of the cases, 15 were linked to China, and 10 became infected after traveling on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan.