Public will have 'food and supplies they need' during coronavirus outbreak, insist ministers

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen

The public will continue to have "the food and supplies they need" during the worsening coronavirus outbreak, ministers have pledged.

It comes amid fears of panic buying and empty shelves - particularly in the case of anti-bacterial gels and soap.

On Friday, government minister George Eustice has said he was "reassured" by a meeting with UK retailers that the industry had taken "all the necessary steps" to ensure consumers needs would be met.

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know

  • ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen reports on the latest reassurances about food supplies

Environment Secretary Mr Eustice said: "The retailers reassured me they have well-established contingency plans and are taking all the necessary steps to ensure consumers have the food and supplies they need."

He added: "I was particularly keen to hear how Government could support their preparations and we've agreed to work closely together over the coming days and weeks."

The minister said the Government would continue to communicate with the industry on the issue.

Amid reports of panic buying, bosses at Northampton General Hospital said sanitising gel on their wards was being stolen by visitors on a daily basis.

Sally-Anne Watts, the hospital's associate communications director, told the BBC: "Over the past week we've seen stocks on wards disappear from the end of beds every single day."

Environment Secretary George Eustice said he was 'reassured' by the meeting. Credit: PA

It comes as a second person in the UK died after contracting the coronavirus.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed a man described as "somebody who was older and had underlying health conditions" died at a hospital in Milton Keynes.

On Friday, Boris Johnson announced the government is investing £46m to find a vaccine for the virus and develop a rapid test for the disease.

A Superdrug store displays a sign limiting hand sanitiser sales. Credit: PA

Prior to their talks with the Government, Tesco chairman John Allan told ITV that criticism over the how the government has dealt with the incident was "a little unfair".

Mr Allan said the Government was "walking a difficult tightrope between over-reacting and being accused of creating panic and under-reacting and being accused of complacency".

He added that Tesco had "no shortage of food in overall terms" but admitted "there may be a few lines where there are temporary shortages".

Empty shelves at a supermarket in Cambridge city centre. Credit: PA

On Thursday, health secretary Matt Hancock said "We are working with the supermarkets to make sure that, if people are self-isolating, then we will be able to get the food and supplies that they need."

Those self-isolating in the UK will also be entitled to sick pay from the first day they are off work following new legislation being introduced by the Government.

  • Boris Johnson announces a £46m investment in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak:

The coronavirus outbreak - which originated in Wuhan, China at the end of last year - has hit financial markets hard.

On a terrible day for UK market, the FTSE 100 dropped by more than 3 per cent though supermarkets did perform better than average.