COVID seems to be the viral gift that keeps on giving, as the world is now dealing with a second wave of illnesses stemming from a variant of the original strain called Delta.
And as such, much of the world is reacting in the same way it did in response to the first wave: Panic.
The first problem region we are seeing is Britain, where supermarkets are now struggling to keep up with demand and ensure the population has an adequate supply of food because of panic buying and hoarding over what the English media is calling a “ping-demic” — which refers to being “pinged by the National Health System’s test-and-trace program.
“Supermarkets have urged customers not to panic buy in response to reports of emptying shelves, saying they are continuing to receive regular deliveries,” The Independent reported late this week. “The UK’s biggest supermarkets described any shortages as “patchy” across stores but said there was no need for customers to change their shopping habits.”
Other British media reported similar circumstances involving a growing number of supermarkets around the country, complete with photos of near-bare shelves (which, in fact, are only likely to create more panic and more panic buying).
But the latest round of food hoarding was likely caused by the NHS’ ping program; last week, the country’s public health agency sent out a half-million alerts notifying Britons they were required to self-quarantine for 10 days after they potentially came into contact with someone who was positive for COVID-19.
The pinging of so many citizens caused a run on food stores, which has, in turn, led to supply chain shock as hundreds of thousands of people flocked to stores for food and fuel to get through quarantines.
“Empty shelves seen in supermarkets as public warned ‘don’t panic buy’ as #pingdemic cripples Britain,” The Sun noted in a tweet featuring video of near-empty store shelves.
“We’re very concerned about the situation,” said Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng in an interview with Sky News after being asked about panic hoarding at supermarkets. “We’re monitoring the situation.”
The country’s second-largest grocery chain, Sainsbury’s, also warned that hoarding was leading to short supplies and strains on supply chains.
“We are working hard to ensure customers can find what they need. While we might not always have the exact product a customer is looking for in every store, large quantities of products are being delivered to stores daily and our colleagues are focused on getting them onto the shelves as quickly as they can,” a Sainsbury’s spokesperson told Reuters.
Asda, the country’s third-biggest grocer, also noted that the ping-demic is putting a crimp not just on food stocks but also personnel. That said, a spokesperson said the chain is nowhere close to being as short-staffed as it was during the height of last year’s pandemic.
“We’re also not in a position where we would have to close any stores,” said a spokesperson.
Still, it’s clear that Britain’s health officials are concerned, both about the new spread of disease and the potential for a food crisis.
“As we manage this virus and do everything we can to break chains of transmission, daily contact testing of workers in this vital sector will help to minimize the disruption caused by rising cases in the coming weeks, while ensuring workers are not put at risk,” Health Secretary Sajid Javid added.
The ping-demic comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson lifted most COVID-related restrictions and allowed Britons to more or less move about with a lot more freedom than they are used to having.
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