Panic buying continued to sweep the UK as a minister hinted government action to ensure food supplies could include rationing.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday he was “confident” shops will not run out of food but appealed for people to think of others and “behave responsibly”.
The Sun later reported a government source confirming rationing could be on the cards.
Long queues outside stores and empty shelves in them are becoming a familiar sight as shoppers have been panic buying essentials, including toilet paper, as fears intensify over the spread of Covid-19.
Asked if food supply might be at risk, Hancock told Sophy Ridge: “No, one of the things we are confident about is that the food supply will continue.”
But pressed to guarantee this would not be the case, he said: “Well, we are confident about it. What I can guarantee is we will work with the supermarkets to ensure that people get enough.
“I understand why people might be stocking up but people have got to behave responsibly.
“Supermarkets are right to write the letter calling on people to be responsible and to consider the impact their stocking up might have on others.
“And of course we stand ready to take further measures if that’s necessary.”
In a joint open letter published on Saturday, members of the British Retail Consortium urged everyone to work together to ensure there is enough food for the country.
Retailers are working “round the clock” to help families get the items they need, the BRC insisted.
The letter was aimed at reassuring customers, some of whom may be vulnerable, while appealing to them to support each other during the crisis.
It asked everyone to be “considerate in the way they shop”, adding: “We understand your concerns, but buying more than is needed can sometimes mean that others will be left without.
“There is enough for everyone if we all work together.”
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Firms are working closely with the government and suppliers, and have arranged more store deliveries to ensure shelves are stocked, the letter added.
But footage posted across social media showed lines snaking out into the carparks at large supermarkets and wholesalers, with one Lidl shopper tweeting: “This is getting out off control!! What has the world come to!?”
Meanwhile on Sunday, Waitrose’s website and mobile phone app went offline for a number of hours, while those shopping on Ocado’s online store were placed in a holding queue as customers vied for delivery slots.
Sainsbury’s and Tesco customers also faced a scarcity of delivery dates, with delays of around two weeks expected in some areas.
Environment secretary, George Eustice, said in a statement that he supported the BRC’s call, and added: “By working together, our leading supermarkets have provided the reassurance there is plenty of stock available and people should buy products as they normally would.
“We are in regular contact with the food industry and retailers are continuing to monitor their supply chains and are taking all the necessary steps to ensure consumers have the food and supplies they need.”