Ilford, United Kingdom VIJAY SHAH – HEMNA Exclusive
As the situation with the COVID-19 novel coronavirus spirals out of control in Britain, hoarding and panic buying of everyday consumer essentials such as toilet paper, liquid soap, flour, nappies and painkillers has left many supermarkets running out of stock. Shoppers worried about having to self-isolate and fearing a nationwide quarantine as has happened in Italy are being confronted with shelves stripped bare. People have been filmed getting into fights over multipacks of toilet tissue and there has been an uptick in incidents of violence and abuse directed at supermarket employees.
Meanwhile some smaller convenience stores and pharmacies have capitalised on the shortage and heightened demand by doubling and tripling prices, violating UK trading laws, and spurring name-and-shame campaigns of price-gouging shop owners on social media.
HEM News Agency editor Vijay Shah got a feel for this extraordinary situation first hand when he walked to a nearby Aldi supermarket in Seven Kings High Road in the London suburban town of Ilford to purchase a few groceries.
Visiting the store for my weekly food shop and concerned about the constant stream of news in the media and family conversations around struggling to obtain basic items I was not expecting an easy ride.
It was a sunny, bright but very chilly start to the day, around 9 am local time. As I approached the supermarket, which lies adjacent to the London-Shenfield Great Eastern Railway route, I got my first true glimpse of life in what feels like a real-life semi-apocalypse. A queue of shoppers snaked away from the entrance to Aldi, working its way through the car park. People waited patiently, many with shopping trolleys, possibly to help with panic buying or to grab as much as they could to feed their families in these uncertain times. Some wore blue surgical masks and rubber gloves, as if though they had just jumped out for lunch break after being in a hospital operating theatre. Freezing cold as it was, the atmosphere among the assembled early morning bargain hunters was less doom-and-gloom and more what was for dinner today.
As people chatted amongst themselves, a security guard kept order at the front of the queue, with people working for the National Health Service (NHS) being allowed to go ahead of other customers. A couple playfully pushed each other as staff from the McDonald’s next door came over to gawp at the queue for themselves. I did a quick ‘guesstimate’ of how many there were waiting with me, and I assumed around 30-40 had turned out to brave the rush and possibly empty shelves inside.
After about thirty minutes of waiting, we were allowed to enter the store as worried and tense checkout cashiers looked on. People with trolleys immediately began dominating the aisles, and some tempers began becoming frayed, although not to the point of physical altercations breaking out.
As I began my search for long lasting food items to fill my cupboard at home, I saw how Aldi and other major supermarkets were trying to keep supply chains open and the retail system fair for everyone. A sign told shoppers that they were restricted to four items of the same product per person. Bread loaves were rationed to two per customer. Packs of nappies (diapers) were limited to just one pack each.
Not much to my surprise there was no tinned food to be found, with the entire section completely cleaned out, save for some tins of potatoes. The same empty shelves stripped bare of hand-wash, shower gel and hand sanitiser confronted me as I tried to purchase just one bottle of shower gel. Washing powder for laundry, too, was almost completely out of stock, save for some generic branded economy size boxes. Faced with the prospect of odd-smelling laundry, I grabbed a box and held onto it for dear life, nearly misplacing it at one point as I took a phone call from a friend stranded in India due to the pandemic.
Fortunately it seemed that supermarket chains’ promises of keeping their shelves topped up as best as they could were being met under these trying circumstances, as I discovered plentiful supplies of at least most basics, such as milk, fruits and vegetables, meats and poultry, and cleaning products. As shoppers streamed around the aisles, I was slightly taken aback by the calm and orderliness they exhibited, but as the pandemic becomes a part of everyday life, the public have adjusted accordingly. We do not what to expect or whether things will get worse as coronavirus grips the world by the throat, but as people milled around amid the freezers and Easter eggs of Aldi Seven Kings, I witnessed resilience, respect and the fundamental need to just get on with life.
Stay safe everyone and please think of others.
FOOD SHOPPING UNDER THE GLOBAL COVID-19 PANDEMIC: A first-hand account