By Andrew MacAskill and Kylie MacLellan
LONDON (Reuters) – British shoppers stripped some supermarkets of pasta, toilet paper and canned food on Friday and major soccer matches were suspended just hours after Prime Minister Boris Johnson resisted imposing stringent measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak.
Johnson has said it would be counterproductive to implement draconian isolation measures as the peak of the epidemic is weeks away, but people were bracing for the worst.
Across the country, many supermarket shelves were empty of basic ingredients for the first time since fuel protests prompted panic buying two decades ago.
“I have never seen the supermarket look like that. It is chaos in there,” said Fran Edwards, 45, who works in marketing and was leaving the Tesco in Twickenham, southwest London, with a shopping trolley filled to the brim.
“I have decided to buy two weeks worth of food. There are really long queues and there is not enough stock. I don’t want to panic. But at the same time I didn’t want to be regretting this opportunity in a few days.”
Even soccer fell victim to the fears over coronavirus – following a raft of other sports events around the world that have been postponed, canceled or held behind closed doors.
All elite soccer matches in England, including the Premier League, were suspended until April 4 on Friday due to the coronavirus pandemic, English soccer’s governing bodies said in a joint statement.
England’s friendly internationals against Italy and Denmark at Wembley on March 27 and 31, respectively, will not take place, the FA said in a statement. The men’s and women’s FA Cup competitions have also been suspended.
British Airways will ground aircraft like never before and lay off staff in a battle by the company to tackle what its chief executive called the most serious crisis in aviation history.
“It is a crisis of global proportions like no other we have known,” BA CEO Alex Cruz told staff in a global message seen by Reuters. BA is owned by IAG.
Deutsche Bank said one employee at its London HQ had tested positive for coronavirus. British cases of coronavirus rose 35% to 798 over the past 24 hours, health authorities said.
British supermarket bosses have urged people not to panic and said that they can keep shelves stocked but anecdotal evidence shows many people are hoarding basics.
Trading is intense with some shop bosses saying it can only be compared to the pre-Christmas rush. Reuters reporters in London witnessed arguments at two major supermarkets with shoppers bickering over how much pasta and other goods each person should be allowed to buy.
“I just want to be prepared for the worst,” said Anita, 41, a teacher at a college, who asked not to use her last name. Her trolley was completely full. “You watch what is happening on the news and I do think are we being too relaxed in this country.”
Lidl in Hackney, east London, had no pasta, toilet paper, flour, tinned fish or oil. In Hastings, 70 miles south of London, eggs were almost entirely sold out at a different Lidl as were nappies, Marmite and some frozen products.
Waitrose in the Canary Wharf financial district had neither pasta nor toilet paper on Thursday night. Supermarkets in Leighton Buzzard, north of London, had run out of toilet roll, soap, hand sanitizer and had reduced stocks of pasta and soup.
At a Tesco in Petersfield, in southern England, there were shortages of frozen goods and toilet roll.
Tesco at Brent Cross, north London, was stripped of toilet paper, liquid soap and many canned foods. Waitrose in the Canary Wharf financial district had neither pasta nor toilet paper on Thursday night.
Britain believes that supermarkets have a resilient supply chain, a spokesman for Johnson said when asked about the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.
Johnson warned on Thursday that many more families would see their loved ones die from coronavirus, as the government’s chief scientific adviser said Britain likely has as many as 10,000 people infected.
(Reporting by Sarah Young, William James, Michael Holden, Huw Jones, James Davey, Jon Shenfield and Ben Dangerfield; writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Kate Holton and Alison Williams)