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Australian News

Woolies and Coles reintroduce buying limits to stop Qld panic buying


Panic buying sparked by a snap three-day lockdown of Greater Brisbane has pushed supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths to reinstate purchase limits on a range of toiletries, essential items and frozen goods.

The new measures come as Brisbane residents swarmed supermarkets on Friday after the Palaszczuk Government put Greater Brisbane into a three-day lockdown from 6pm.

Car parks were jammed and long queues formed as supermarket shelves were stripped clean in panic buying reminiscent of crazy scenes during Brisbane’s first lockdown early last year.

Among the long list of items now limited to two per customer at both Woolworths and Coles are toilet rolls, paper towels and liquid soap.

Woolworths Supermarkets Director of Stores Rob Moffat said they had no choice but to act following the rush on certain items on Friday.

“We understand this is an anxious time for Brisbane residents, however we want to reassure our customers we will remain open as an essential service to support their food and grocery needs during the temporary lockdown,” he said.

“We have stock to draw on from our suppliers and distribution centres and it will continue to flow into stores in large volumes.

“We encourage everyone to continue shopping as they usually would and only buy what they need.”

He said Woolworths would monitor demand and look to remove the limits as soon as possible.

Anyone visiting a Woolworths store after 6pm on Friday, must wear a mask, he said.

“We ask our customers to follow all social distancing and hygiene measures while shopping in our stores,” he said.

Coles said in a statement they needed to introduce a limit to manage the run on certain goods and, like Woolworths, their limits are for online as well as in-store.

“To help manage demand for key staple items, a two-pack per customer limit is now in place at all Coles supermarkets and Coles Express stores in Greater Brisbane, as well as Coles Online orders for all Queensland customers,” Coles said.

Selected items that are limited to two per person at both Woolies and Coles:

– Toilet Rolls

– Paper Towels

– Tissues

– Liquid Soap

– Fresh and Long Life Milk

– Eggs

– Pasta

– Rice

– Flour

– Sugar

– Canned Vegetables

– Canned Fish

– Meat

– Mince

– Burgers

– Chicken Breasts and Thighs

– Pre-packaged Seafood

– Frozen Vegetables

– Frozen Chips



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Australian News

What we know about virus mutation causing UK panic


A mutant strain of the coronavirus has caused panic in Europe where more than two dozen countries have suspended United Kingdom flights in fear of the new variant.

The UK confirmed the existence of the more infectious strain on Saturday (local time), citing it as one of the reasons Britain has had to effectively cancel Christmas.

Dozens of countries from India to Argentina have banned flights from Britain over concerns about the new virus strain, which is reportedly 70 per cent more contagious.

The mutation, known as the 501Y variant, has also been detected in small numbers elsewhere including in Australia, but experts say there is no evidence it is more lethal or resistant to vaccines.

Scientists are not sure where the strain first appeared, but many suspect Britain is ground zero.

The first known case there was sampled on September 20.

“It is very likely that it emerged here, but it is also likely that it is in other countries,” Susan Hopkins, a senior lecturer in infectious diseases at Imperial College London, told journalists in a Zoom press conference on Monday.

Denmark, The Netherlands, Australia and Italy have all reported cases, she said.

A variant with some of the same genetic deletions has also been identified in South Africa, but is thought to have evolved separately, which supports the idea that viruses mutate to help them to become more effective at infecting others.

It is also possible, scientists say, that the mutation is already more widespread than thought but has simply not been detected.

The only way to spot a mutated version of SARS-CoV-2 is to sequence the virus’s entire genome, but Denmark and Britain are the only countries in Europe that do so on a routine basis.

“The UK may be victims of their own technical success in highlighting the emergence of the 501Y variant,” London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Professor Brendan Wren said, noting that Britain may be treated “as the lepers of the world”.

RELATED: Australia will continue to take UK flights

Members of NERVTAG, a group of scientists advising the British government on the threat posed by emerging respiratory diseases, said on Monday they are unlikely to trace the strain – officially known as SARS-CoV-2 VUI 202012/01 – back to a “patient zero”, but have an idea of how it might have emerged.

“The hypothesis would be that this passed through somebody immunosuppressed who therefore had circulation of live mutations over a long period of time,” NERVTAG chair Professor Peter Horby said.

The World Health Organisation in Europe said its experts would meet on Wednesday to discuss how to handle the outbreak, saying “limiting travel to contain spread is prudent until we have better info” but cautioned that “supply chains for essential goods and essential travel should remain possible”.

Over the weekend, WHO Europe urged stronger action to contain the new strain and called on members to “increase the sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 viruses where possible and sharing of sequence data internationally, in particular, to report if the same mutations of concern are found”.

The WHO’s European region comprises 53 countries, including Russia and several Central Asian nations – a region that has registered nearly 24 million coronavirus cases and over 500,000 deaths.

WHAT ABOUT THE SECOND NEW VARIANT FROM SOUTH AFRICA?

Britain on Wednesday introduced restrictions on travel from South Africa over the spread of another new variant of coronavirus.

The restrictions, which applied with immediate effect, were introduced following the discovery of two cases of the virus strain in Britain.

“This new variant is highly concerning, because it is yet more transmissible, and it appears to have mutated further than the new variant that has been discovered in the UK,” UK Health Minister Matt Hancock said, referring to a strain of the virus discovered in Britain which has also been found to be more contagious.

The health minister said that all individuals in the UK who had contracted the variant originating in South Africa had been placed in quarantine as well as their close contacts.

In addition to the travel restrictions, Hancock said the government was also asking anyone who has been in close contact with someone who had been in South Africa in the last two weeks to quarantine.

“They must restrict all contact with any other person whatsoever,” he said.

The discovery of cases of what officials believe is a new, more transmissible variant of the coronavirus in the UK follows the announcement last week that a new strain had spread throughout the south of England.

HOW HAS THE NEW STRAIN CHANGED?

Whether the coronavirus is successful in finding someone to infect depends on how its “spike protein” interacts with a specific receptor on the surface of many human cells known as ACE2.

The easier it is for the virus to latch on to a receptor, the more likely it is the person will be infected.

The 501Y variant may have changed in ways that enhance its chances of a successful docking.

“There is a really unusual cluster of mutations associated with this variant – 22 coding changes across the whole virus genome,” NERVTAG member and infectious diseases expert Professor Wendy Barclay said.

Mutations observed in the spike protein, she told journalists, “would make it easier for the virus to enter cells, and could biologically explain an increase in transmission”.

Bits of missing genetic code in other regions could also boost its ability to spread, she said.

RELATED: Wedding spreads mutant strain

HOW MUCH MORE INFECTIOUS?

In announcing more stringent lockdown measures over the Christmas holiday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Saturday the new viral strain “may be up to 70 per cent more transmissible than the original version of the disease”.

That assessment was based on preliminary data from sequenced virus genomes gathered from London and parts of southeastern England.

In early November, scientists found the new variant was responsible for just over a quarter of infections in these areas. By the week ending on December 9, it accounted for more than 60 per cent of all new cases.

Since Mr Johnson’s shock announcement, which triggered commercial flight bans and border closings, scientists in Britain have crunched even more data.

“We now have high confidence that this variant does have a transmission advantage over other virus variants that are currently in the UK,” NERVTAG chair Professor Peter Horby said.

The latest calculations, he added, suggest 501Y is 50 to 70 per cent more infectious.

Another indicator of its ability to spread is the variant’s reproductive number, or “R rate” – the average number of new cases generated by a single infected person.

Anything above 1.0 means that a virus is continuing to find new hosts and is expanding.

“Even during the (recent) lockdown in England, this virus had an R-number that was about 0.4 larger than non-variant strains,” NERVTAG member Neil Ferguson said.

“The non-variant strains had an R number of about 0.8, but this variant had an R of 1.2 or even higher.”

That could be bad news for efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19, which has already claimed more than 67,000 lives in Britain and 1.7 million worldwide.

“I think it is highly likely to become the dominant strain across the UK given the trends we have seen so far,” Prof Ferguson said.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Tuesday said that “initial analysis indicates that the variant may spread more readily between people,” but said more research was needed to assess its impact on treatments and vaccines.

RELATED: Deaths in the UK could double by January 1

IS 501Y MORE SEVERE?

“There is no indication at this point of increased infection severity associated with the new variant,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said in its threat assessment.

This conclusion, however, “is challenged by the fact that the majority of cases were reported in people under 60 years old, who are less likely to develop severe symptoms”.

At the same time, “there is a hint that it has a higher propensity to infect children,” Prof Ferguson said.

Even if proven true, that does not mean the virus is “targeting” children, who up to now have been less prone to infection and, when they do catch the bug, less severe symptoms, Prof Barclay said.

“The previous virus had a harder time binding to ACE2 and getting into (human) cells,” she explained. That made adults – with more abundant ACE2 receptors in their nose and throats – an easier target compared to children.

“If the new strain is having an easier time of entering and binding to cells, that would put children on a more level playing field,” Prof Barclay added, noting the additional impact of young people mixing socially, especially in school.

WILL VACCINES STILL WORK?

Scientists in Britain and elsewhere are testing the new strain against the several vaccines, but so far there is no indication that they will be less effective.

“It is possible that we may need to update vaccines, perhaps not every year,” Prof Barclay said. “But we will need to monitor these viruses moving forward.”

Updating the new generation of so-called messenger RNA vaccines, she added, will be a lot easier than modifying flu vaccines, as happens every year.

Both of the leading vaccines in Europe and the US – one made by Pfizer-BioNTech, the other by Moderna – are RNA-based.

The co-founder of BioNTech, Ugur Sahin, said on Tuesday it was “highly likely” that its vaccine would work against the mutated strain detected in Britain, adding that the company could adapt the vaccine if necessary in six weeks.

Researchers are also investigating the possible impact of the new strain on COVID-19 testing and treatments, though there is little so far to suggest either will be significantly compromised.

“We have to be cautious in our conclusions, this is still early days and there’s still a lot of uncertainty about many aspects of this new variant,” Prof Ferguson said.

The European Union was preparing its rollout of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Sunday, following similar vaccination campaigns in the UK and the US.

RELATED: How does the Pfizer vaccine work?

HOW OFTEN DO VIRUSES MUTATE?

All the time, but some viruses do it more than others.

A two-dose vaccine against measles, for example, can last a lifetime, whereas the cocktail in flu shots changes every year to keep up with genetic changes.

Coronaviruses are somewhere in between and SARS-CoV-2, is no exception.

“Viruses constantly change through mutation and the emergence of a new variant is an expected occurrence and not in itself a cause for concern,” the ECDC said on Sunday in an threat assessment report of the new strain.

As for the pathogen that causes COVID-19, “even by March, there were eight major lineages that were all separating,” Prof Hopkins said.

The more critical question is where in the virus such mutations occur, and whether they will make it more infectious and/or deadly.

Before the emergence in Britain of this more contagious strain, other genetic variations were mostly benign.



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Drakes owner urges calm on toilet paper panic


A South Australian supermarket chain has called for calm as mass panic buying, caused by a sudden spike in COVID-19 cases, surges across the state.

In a cheeky video posted to Twitter on Tuesday, Drakes Supermarkets Director John-Paul Drake said people needed to “calm the farm” amid the sudden increase in bulk toilet paper purchases.

Coles has already imposed a two-packet limit for shoppers in a bid to ensure the items remain available to other shoppers.

https://twitter.com/G_Westgarth/status/1328547820115173376

In his address to “the state of Radelaide”, Mr Drake said there was no need to panic buy as they had enough toilet paper to go from “here, end on end, to (the) SpaceX rocket that got launched the other day”.

“There is so much toilet paper – you don’t need to be buying this in bulk,” Mr Drake said.

Adamant to prove stocks would not be running low, Woolworths store granted NCA NewsWire access to its South Australian distribution centre, revealing thousands of rolls ready to go.

A Woolworths spokesman said the company was sending triple the volume of toilet paper to stores as it did last Tuesday to ensure toilet paper is available for our customers.

“We experienced higher than usual demand for toilet paper across our South Australian stores yesterday,” they said.

“Customers are encouraged to buy only what they need, as we’ll continue to receive extra orders of stock in our stores regularly.

“We will continue to monitor the situation closely and reassess product limits if needed.”

Mr Drake urged shoppers to be kind to team members who were working to keep shelves stocked.

“Our team learned some lessons from the first wave (of coronavirus), so we’ve ensured that our Distribution Centre in Edinburgh North is appropriately stocked,” he said.

“Some shelves may be a bit low for now, but we can assure you that more stock is on its way.

“We’re already in talks with our supplier partners to ensure we can access more if required.”

In response to the panic buying, Coles has implemented a two packet limit on buying toilet paper.

A Coles spokesman said the purchase limits in SA were to ensure more customers had access to staple items.

“Effective from today, the limits apply at all Coles supermarkets and Coles Express stores in SA, as well as Coles Online orders for customers in SA,” they said.

“The limits do not currently apply to any other states or products, however we will continue to monitor stock levels and ask that customers purchase only what they need.”

Many people took to social media to show toilet paper, bread and gym equipment had flown off shelves at a number of supermarkets.

The retail workers union Secretary Josh Peak said it was caused by people being concerned of a shortage and the stress the pandemic has put on locals.

“The community is anxious and stressed out and unfortunately their lashing out at retail workers who are not only getting the panic buying but are also seeing an increase in customer abuse again,” he said on ABC Radio.

“We just need to remain claim. SA will get through this but we don’t need to put our retail workers through this additional stress for no reason.

“Our supply chain is very well stocked. We do not need to have rush on products. The only thing that causes a shortage is the rush itself so it’s really important that South Australians remain calm, do their usual shopping and make sure we have plenty on the shelves for all of us to share.”

The empty shelves come as SA’s Parafield cluster, which was announced on Sunday, grows to 23 known and suspected linked cases.

It was the first recorded community transmission since April.

The state now has a number of tougher restrictions put in place as a result, which came into effect as of midnight on Monday.





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Swarm of moths caused panic during the Sydney Olympics closing ceremony


It took Australia’s 40 best forecasters to predict the clear skies and sunny weather for the Sydney Olympics closing ceremony, and one swarm of moths to put everyone in a flap.

Minutes into the ceremony, Tony Bannister — the head forecaster for the Games — noticed a growing rain blip on the weather radar while in the Bureau of Meteorology office.

“It was stressful, we were holding our breaths,” Mr Bannister said.

“We were running from the radar to the window on the other side of the building and making dozens of phone calls. It was happening very fast.

“In our line of work every second counts,” Mr Bannister said.

Then the real culprit landed.

The massive rain cloud approaching the stadium was actually a swarm of millions of moths, attracted to Stadium Australia’s giant lights.

As legendary soprano Yvonne Kenny sang the Olympic Hymn in a dazzling purple gown, a ruffled bogong moth crash landed on her torso.

A man smile
Tony Bannister was stressed by a radar ping, thinking rain was on its way.(Supplied)

“There were six of us there with a little TV on in the background and we saw it,” Mr Bannister said.

“We couldn’t laugh, because at the time I was thinking it was going to be a raindrop, we’d be lined up outside like the Russians and shot.”

Mr Bannister, head of severe weather for Victoria in 2000, was invited north for the Olympics along with more than 40 forecasters and researchers from across Australia.

“We thought of ourselves as the A-Team,” he said.

But the radar ping had the veteran weatherman stressed.

“We had stuck our necks out and said it would be clear skies and this cool change would happen later in the evening,” he said.

“The radar was showing stuff that looks like drizzle, which is much worse than heavy rain because you get so much more soaked and it’s really annoying.”

A man draws on plastic overlay over a computer screen to plot movement of rain.
A senior forecaster plots rain and wind movements during the Games.(Supplied)

As she performed, Ms Kenny saw the moths approaching.

“I’d prepared the dress, my hair, everything, the hymn. But you don’t have ultimate control,” she said from the UK.

“Life presents you with something unexpected and you have to take it in your stride and not take it too seriously.”

The swarm of moths fluttered on their way as the Olympic flag was lowered and passed on to Greece, and the weather team was finally able to exhale.

“It’s turned into a great story and it was a beaut night,” Mr Bannister said.

A group of people smiling
A team of more than 40 forecasters and researchers worked on the Sydney Olympics.(Supplied)



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Local News - Victoria

Meat prices may rise but supply will stay steady if shoppers don’t panic buy


The government will consider measures to keep abattoirs working, including longer hours so staff can maintain physical distancing.

Meat works and abattoirs have presented major challenges in containing the virus. On Tuesday there were 155 cases linked to Bertocchi Smallgoods in Thomastown, 133 cases linked to Somerville Retail Services in Tottenham and 78 linked to the Australian Lamb Company in Colac.

Abattoirs will have to meet tough new conditions, including staff having to wear similar protective equipment to healthcare workers.

Victorian Farmers Federation president David Jochinke said the new conditions imposed on abattoirs might result in price rises.

“There’s a chance that will flow through to price because their running costs may be affected,” he said.

But he believed there would be a continuous supply of fresh produce and said there was no need for panic buying.

Mr Jochinke urged Victorians to consider buying cuts of meat they might not usually use if their preferred products were unavailable.

He said the industry would continue operating throughout the pandemic and would adapt to the health regulations.

Melbourne butcher Peter Bouchier, who has outlets in Malvern, Toorak and the David Jones food hall in the CBD, said the weekend was ”mayhem” after rumours that abattoirs would close altogether.

Mr Bouchier said some people were spending $500 to $600 amid fears there would be a food shortage. “Online went ballistic; we’ve had to shut it down each day because we can’t cope,” he said.

Mr Bouchier said the panic buying had put a lot of pressure on staff.

“It was terrible,” Mr Bouchier said. “When people panic buy it empties the shelves. Once people see it empty out they get a star gaze in their eyes and just buy. It’s just a shame … if everyone would just take a chill pill.”

Victorian Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes said the government was working to make sure disruption to food availability was minimal.

She said some abattoirs had already asked whether it was possible to run for longer hours to ensure operations continued with physical distancing.

“It is one option that the industry may want to consider,” she said.

Alex Micari, chief financial officer of Tasman Butchers, said sales levels at the company’s nine outlets in metropolitan Melbourne at the weekend had been akin to the Christmas rush, or when the pandemic first took hold in March, and remained high on Monday and Tuesday.

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“There was uncertainty last week about what would be open,” he said. ”Therefore you had an incredible amount of heightened demand – panic, I suppose – and you couple that with the fact there’s been some issues with meat processing facilities being closed, and comments about whether there would be a supply issues.”

However, Mr Micari said there were still plenty of meat processors operating, and Tasman was able to process carcasses for its shops.

“If everyone accepts there’s plenty of product and just buys what they need, there will be plenty of supply,” he said.

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Woolworths brings back purchase limits amid panic buying


Supermarket giant Woolworths has announced it will be reimposing buying limits on essential items in Victoria, with whispers the state is heading into Stage 4 restrictions.

Woolworths has reinstated a purchase limit of two items per customer across at least 50 product categories in Victoria.

“We understand this is an anxious time for our Victorian customers, but we encourage everyone to continue shopping as they usually would and only buy what they need,” Claire Peters, Woolworths Supermarkets Managing Director, said in a statement on Sunday.

“Stock will continue to flow from our distribution centres and as an essential service, Woolworths supermarkets remain open to support customers’ food and grocery needs.”

The move follows an increase in demand across Victorian stores in the last 24 hours.

RELATED: Follow for the latest coronavirus updates

Woolworths is enforcing purchase limits of two items across the following product categories:

  • Toilet paper
  • Paper Towel
  • Baby Wipes
  • Tissues
  • Anti Bacterial Wipes
  • Liquid Hand Wash
  • Disinfectants
  • Bleach
  • Cleaners
  • Disposable Gloves
  • Sponges & Scourers
  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Flour
  • Sugar
  • Frozen Vegetables
  • Frozen Potato
  • Frozen Fruit
  • Frozen Fish
  • Frozen Poultry
  • Long life Milk
  • Long life Milk (Speciality)
  • Noodles (Mainstream)
  • Cooking Oil
  • Pasta Sauce
  • Vinegar (White)
  • Packet Side Dish – Pasta & Sauce
  • Indian foods and sauces
  • Mexican Dinner kits
  • Salsa
  • Canned Tomato
  • Canned Vegetables
  • Canned Legumes
  • Canned Fruit
  • Baked Beans & Spaghetti
  • Dairy Milk
  • Dairy Milk (Specialty)
  • Chilled Juice
  • Bacon Prepacked
  • Eggs
  • Mince (fixed weight only)
  • Sausages
  • Burgers, Rissoles and meatballs
  • Carrots Prepacked
  • Potatoes Prepacked
  • Onions Prepacked
  • Bread (loaves) including in-store
  • Frozen Seafood

Additionally the following limits apply across the meat category:

  • 2x packs Pork
  • 2x packs Lamb
  • 2x packs Beef
  • 2x packs Chicken

More to come …



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Local News - Victoria

Supermarkets brace for second wave of panic buying


Coles said shoppers in locked-down areas, in Melbourne and Mitchell Shire, would only be able to buy one pack of toilet paper from Wednesday morning.

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There are also two-item limits on pasta, rice, flour, sugar, milk, chicken, eggs, frozen food, tissues, hand sanitiser and liquid soaps.

Woolworths returned product limits to all Victorian stores.

“The move follows a surge in demand across Victoria overnight and will help ensure more customers have fair access to fresh food and essentials at Woolworths,” the supermarket said on Wednesday.

“We have more than enough stock flowing from our distribution centres into stores to support all our customers’ food and grocery needs. We encourage all our customers to continue shopping as they usually would.”

Shoppers at Woolworths stores will only be able to buy two packets each of frozen food, pre-packed meats, carrots, potatoes, milk, sliced bread, tissues, chilled juice, pasta, eggs, flour, rice, sugar, paper towel, and hand sanitiser. Toilet paper was still limited to two at Woolworths stores around the country.

A packaged salad shelf at Coles in Prahran on Tuesday night.

A packaged salad shelf at Coles in Prahran on Tuesday night.Credit:Paul Sakkal

Coles said it would continue to monitor stock at other stores and asked shoppers to treat staff with respect and adhere to social distancing in stores.

Melburnians depleted stock of some supermarket products following the announcement of renewed restrictions on Tuesday night, but many items remained in plentiful supply. Supermarket workers said frenzied buying was mild compared to the initial bout in March.

Toilet paper, potatoes, tomatoes and bread were running low at six supermarkets across inner-eastern Melbourne. Meat and pasta stocks appeared largely unaffected and most items were still widely available, bar a few exceptions.

Workers at Woolworths in Hawthorn East and Coles in Richmond said there was a rush of customers in the late afternoon and early evening. Both workers said supermarkets were better prepared for over-buying and had extra stock to replenish shelves.

The stock of onions was running low at Coles in Richmond on Tuesday night.

The stock of onions was running low at Coles in Richmond on Tuesday night.Credit:Paul Sakkal

Hitesh Palta – owner of the IGA Altona store in Melbourne’s south-western suburbs, the first store in Australia to introduce elderly-only hours at the start of the pandemic – said there were signs that some people had begun unnecessarily filling their shopping trolleys again.

“There are some customers getting panicked but we do tell them there’s plenty of stock,” Mr Palta said on Tuesday afternoon, shortly after Premier Daniel Andrews announced stage three lockdown would return from 11.59pm on Wednesday.

Shoppers at Coles in Richmond on Tuesday.

Shoppers at Coles in Richmond on Tuesday.Credit:Joe Armao

“We’ve got plenty of stock, nobody is going without anything. Everything is fully stocked up.”

Sales jumped about 20 per cent in the past two weeks, compared with the previous fortnight, but he said that was nothing compared with the 300 per cent jump his store experienced in March.

Mr Palta hoped stores don’t experience that rush again. “There’s no need to panic buy, just buy what you need,” he said.

Coles had earlier struggled to get chilled and fresh produce on the shelves of Victorian and Tasmanian stores after a cluster of six coronavirus cases was connected to its chilled distribution centre in Laverton.

A significant proportion of staff at the distribution centre self-isolated at home as a precaution, which meant the centre could not operate at normal capacity.

Lincoln Wymer, the operations manager of the Reddrop Group, with 17 independent supermarkets in Victoria and NSW, spent Tuesday afternoon preparing for the lockdown announcement.

He had yet to see a reaction from shoppers.

There had been an increase in toilet paper sales again over the past two weeks, he said, but he hoped that would just be a blip after the initial panic-buying in March.

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Supermarkets brace for second wave of panic buying


Major supermarkets assured customers supply would be maintained and stores would remain open.

Workers at Woolworths in Hawthorn East and Coles in Richmond said there was a rush of customers in the late afternoon and early evening. Both workers said supermarkets were better prepared for over-buying and had extra stock to replenish shelves.

Panic buying surged in March as coronavirus cases began to spread, with shoppers stripping shelves of toilet paper and pantry items such as canned goods, eggs and flour.

A packaged salad shelf at Coles in Prahran on Tuesday night.

A packaged salad shelf at Coles in Prahran on Tuesday night.Credit:Paul Sakkal

Hitesh Palta – owner of the IGA Altona store in Melbourne’s south-western suburbs, the first store in Australia to introduce elderly-only hours at the start of the pandemic – said there were signs that some people had begun unnecessarily filling their shopping trolleys again.

“There are some customers getting panicked but we do tell them there’s plenty of stock,” Mr Palta said on Tuesday afternoon, shortly after Premier Daniel Andrews announced stage three lockdown would return from 11.59pm on Wednesday.

The stock of onions was running low at Coles in Richmond on Tuesday night.

The stock of onions was running low at Coles in Richmond on Tuesday night.Credit:Paul Sakkal

“We’ve got plenty of stock, nobody is going without anything. Everything is fully stocked up.”

Sales jumped about 20 per cent in the past two weeks, compared with the previous fortnight, but he said that was nothing compared with the 300 per cent jump his store experienced in March.

Shoppers at Coles in Richmond on Tuesday.

Shoppers at Coles in Richmond on Tuesday.Credit:Joe Armao

Mr Palta hoped stores don’t experience that rush again. “There’s no need to panic buy, just buy what you need,” he said.

Only this week Coles and Woolworths removed some purchase restrictions after a second bout of panic buying slowed.

The stores have repeatedly asked shoppers to treat staff with respect and only buy what they need, while adhering to social distancing in-store.

Altona IGA owner Hitesh Palta, left, with a customer. His supermarket was the first to introduce an elderly-only shopping hour.

Altona IGA owner Hitesh Palta, left, with a customer. His supermarket was the first to introduce an elderly-only shopping hour.Credit:Jason South

Coles removed all limits on its products nationally from Tuesday, while Woolworths retained its two-pack-per-person limit on toilet paper for the time being.

Coles, Woolworths and Aldi have not announced that purchasing limits would return following Mr Andrews’ announcement on Tuesday.

“We know it’s an anxious time for Melburnians, but they can be assured our stores will remain open just as they did throughout March and April,” a Woolworths spokesperson said on Tuesday night.

“We have more than enough stock flowing through from our distribution centres and into our stores to support all our customers’ grocery needs.

“We encourage all our customers to continue shopping as they usually would.”

Coles had struggled to get chilled and fresh produce on the shelves of Victorian and Tasmanian stores after a cluster of six cases was connected to its chilled distribution centre in Laverton.

A significant proportion of staff at the distribution centre self-isolated at home as a precaution, which meant the centre could not operate at normal capacity.

“We thank customers for their patience and understanding while the limits were in place to help us manage increased demand in stores and temporary delays in our Victorian supply chain,” a Coles spokesperson said on Monday.

Lincoln Wymer, the operations manager of the Reddrop Group, with 17 independent supermarkets in Victoria and NSW, spent Tuesday afternoon preparing for the lockdown announcement.

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He had yet to see a reaction from shoppers.

There had been a milder rush in toilet paper sales again over the past two weeks, he said, but he hoped that was just be a blip after the initial panic-buying in March.

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Mum spots bizarre detail after the panic buying shortage


An Aldi shopper is convinced there’s something different about the discount supermarket chain’s loo rolls – and it has ignited debate online.

The topic was raised on the Aldi Mums Facebook group this week when a woman shared some photos of Quilton brand toilet paper compared with Aldi’s Confidence brand, including one Confidence roll purchased several months ago and one bought two weeks ago.

The woman is convinced the Confidence rolls had changed in the wake of the coronavirus-fuelled stockpiling frenzy, and asked fellow group members for their thoughts.

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“Has anyone noticed the difference in the Confidence toilet paper? If you asked me a month ago about the Aldi toot paper I would have said it’s Quilton with a cloud pattern instead of the rose flower,” the woman posted on Facebook.

“Now the toot paper is nowhere near as good.”

She explained that the first picture she shared showed a Quilton roll on top with an older Confidence roll in the middle – which she said “looks and feels exactly like Quilton” – and a new one on the bottom.

“It is not the same … the feel, the colour and even the cardboard roll in the middle is different,” she claimed.

“Please tell me others have noticed, I will go back to Quilton for sure if this is a permanent change.”

An Aldi spokeswoman poured cold water on those claims.

“Aldi has not made any changes to the specifications of our existing Confidence brand toilet

paper in recent months,” the spokeswoman said in a statement sent to news.com.au.

However, the post sparked a flurry of replies, with one Facebook user suggesting there may have been a “different supplier” involved while another said it “looks like it’s gone from 3 ply to 2 ply”.

“I’ve noticed the change but put it down to COVID and panic buyers. We also still can’t get our usual pack size we need either,” one Facebook user wrote, while another posted: “Yes they have changed it the old one was better quality and softer”.

“I thought it could be to do with the shortage. I’m very disappointed with the size of the rolls of Confidence, I’m back to buying Quilton,” another said, while another wrote: “I thought it was only me but there is a big difference.”

The debate comes hot on the heels of a UNSW study which found Australians were the worst panic buyers in the world during the peak of the coronavirus crisis when it came to toilet paper and canned soup.

University of New South Wales academics Mike Keane and Tim Neal used statistics from 54 nations from January to April to compile a “panic index” which revealed just how intense the stockpiling behaviour was in different countries.

“The experience of Australia is notable for the incredible speed and scale with which panic took hold in early March,” the research found.

“Unlike in other countries, the escalation in panic does not appear to correspond with any significant increase in domestic COVID-19 cases.”



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NSW Premier says people must make ‘compromises’ amid job cuts; Aussie shoppers quickest panic buyers in the world; ‘Travel bubble’ could open between select states


Black and Asian people in England are up to 50 per cent more likely to die after being infected with COVID-19, an official study says, reinforcing previous reports which indicated ethnic minority groups were more at risk from the virus.

The report by Public Health England (PHE) to examine disparities in how the disease affected people, showed there was a significant disproportionate effect on ethnic minorities, while confirming death tolls among the elderly were far higher.

The report comes as a United Nations human rights official highlighted the “devastating impact” of the disease on those communities in Britain and other countries.

“Death rates from COVID-19 were higher for Black and Asian ethnic groups when compared to White ethnic groups,” the PHE report said.

The report said that people of Bangladeshi ethnicity had approximately twice the risk of death than people who were white British.

Those who are of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani or other Asian ethnicity, as well as those who are Caribbean or other Black ethnicity, had between a 10 to 50 per cent higher risk of death than those in the white British group, PHE said.

The findings echo a previous study by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released last month, as well as other reports from Finland to the United States.

While disparities in how COVID-19 affects people by age, gender and wealth reflect previous trends, PHE said the disproportionate mortality among Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups was the opposite to what had been seen in recent years.

PHE said that the largest disparity in death rates was in age, with people who were over 80 seventy times more likely to die than those under 40. Men were also more likely to die than women, with death rates also higher in deprived areas.



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