Supermarkets reimpose purchase limits amid resurgence of panic-buying

A sign in a suburban Coles in Melbourne on Wednesday.

A sign in a suburban Coles in Melbourne on Wednesday. Photo: Twitter

Supermarkets have slapped new purchase limits on toilet paper and hand sanitiser amid “significantly elevated demand” in Victorian stores.

Woolworths said on Wednesday it had reinstated limits of two items per customer on toilet paper, hand sanitiser, and other groceries across its Victorian stores.

Rival Coles also confirmed it has reintroduced buying limits for its Victorian stores, plus Lavington, Albury and Deniliquin in New South Wales.

Both companies have reported a surge in demand for a host of items in parts of Melbourne in the past 24 hours.

The rising demand has come amid a continued leap in coronavirus cases in Melbourne, particularly in six designated council hotspots.

Victoria had 20 new COVID cases on Wednesday.

Chief health officer Brett Sutton also confirmed the death of a man in his 80s. He is Victoria’s 20th coronavirus fatality, and Australia’s 103rd – and the country’s first COVID-19 death since May 23.

Many of Victoria’s cases are linked to community transmission of the deadly virus. Only one of the 20 reported on Wednesday was in a returned traveller in hotel quarantine.

By contrast, in NSW – where cases also jumped on Wednesday – all of its 10 new infections were among returned Australians.

Woolworths Supermarket managing director Claire Peters said the company would also enforce social distancing in stores.

“While we have healthy stock levels to draw on, we’re taking this precautionary step to help prevent excessive buying and support appropriate social distancing in our Victorian stores,” she said.

“We have more than enough product for all of our customers if we all just buy what we need in our weekly shop.

“We’ll closely monitor demand across Victoria in the coming days and look to wind back the limits as soon as we can.”

The restrictions apply to toilet paper, hand sanitiser, paper towel, flour, sugar, pasta, mince, UHT milk, eggs and rice.

The company said the reintroduction of limits on select categories would only apply in Victoria, as that was the only state or territory “where the early signs of a demand surge is occurring”.

They will also apply to online orders.

Coles Group chief executive Steven Cain said the limits had been imposed after discussions with the federal and state governments.

“We ask that customers continue to shop normally so that everyone can have access to the food and groceries they need,” he said.

Coles’ limits apply to its outlets across the NSW border as they are stocked by Victorian distribution centres.

Dr Sutton reiterated there was no need for panic-buying.

“People are not going to run out of stuff. There are not going to be hundreds of hundreds of people in isolation because we’ve got hundreds of cases,” he said.

“We’ve got a small and steady but very concerning number of cases over the last week, so people can go about their shopping as per normal.”

-with agencies

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