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Unprecedented scenes across Wexford stores as stock flies off the shelves

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The empty vegetable section in Lidl on Thursday

The empty vegetable section in Lidl on Thursday

Shopping for toilet roll in Aldi on Friday.

Shopping for toilet roll in Aldi on Friday.

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The empty vegetable section in Lidl on Thursday

As the coronavirus crisis escalates Wexford supermarkets are reassuring customers that there is no shortage of foodstuffs and shelves will continue to be stocked.

Retail outlets were besieged with shoppers and toilet roll strangely become one of the most sought after items as panic buying took hold due to anxiety about the virus.

In a Lidl store, a staff member revealed that the premises received a double delivery, amounting to 600 packs one morning last week, and all of it was gone within hours.

'They're either hoarding it or they're building forts with it', he joked with customers at the check-out, adding: 'Anyway, isn't the coronavirus a respiratory illness. How are toilet rolls going to help'.

Still, the humble toilet roll was the first product to disappear off the shelves of Wexford supermarkets each morning, with reports of people wheeling full trolley loads to their cars.

Other high-demand items included pasta, rice, bread and canned foods with some electrical shops also reporting a surge in the demand for freezer units as people increased their purchases of available stocks of frozen food.

Pharmacies were doing a roaring trade in the sale of anything with the word 'anti-bacterial' on the label along with vitamins, throat lozenges and immune-system-boosting supplements.

One item that couldn't be bought for love or money was hand sanitiser.

'It can't be got', said a staff assistant at Tesco, Wexford, adding that otherwise, the store had no stock supply issues whatsoever.

For many retail premises, it was a challenge to keep products on the shelves and stacking became a full-time job.

There was a noticeable surge in panic-buying following Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's announcement on Thursday.

'I've never seen anything like it. I came on at 2 p.m. but an hour after he made the announcement, all the check-outs were in use and there were queues down to the back of the store', said a staff member in Aldi supermarket in Trinity Street.

Throughout the county, retail staff have been run off their feet, coping with the massive increase in consumer demand.

'It's been extremely busy. Yesterday (Thursday) was by far the busiest day. It was a little bit unforeseen. We had all tills going and all hands on deck and it was very challenging but the team worked well', said Nicky Byrne, the manager of Pettitts SuperValu in St. Aidan's Shopping Centre.

'People have been buying everything, dried goods, cleaning products, toilet rolls. There is a stock challenge but we are putting a lot of work into planning and stock building. I think we will get through it', he said.

'We have a stock control team working hard and there are plans in place. We have a lot of inbound stock and we are working to keep it going.'

'The level of panic that we've seen is just human nature. People are buying a lot of toilet rolls. I think a lot of people saw a video from Australia.'

Online shopping and demand for home deliveries have also increased, especially among customers who have health conditions and do not want to leave their homes.

Contractors in hazmat suits were brought in to all Pettitt's SuperValu stores in the county last week to disinfect shopping bays and trolleys sanitising wipes were provided at the supermarket entrances to allow shoppers wipe the handles of baskets and trolleys before use while sanitising stations were set up around the stores.

'We are taking instructions from the HSE and going with those guidelines', said Nicky who commended staff on their great attitude in the current crisis.

'Just in terms of the level of service they have been giving to customers, everyone is working very hard, with smiles on their faces, and doing it under high pressure. It's a whole team effort.'

'It was up the walls yesterday. There were queues up to the middle of the store. People were buying everything they could get their hands on. Today is calmer', said Craig Coughlan, Deputy Manager of Aldi in Clonard.

'I think the toilet roll demand is down to social media, it was happening in Australia and Japan.'

Craig said there are no issues with stock.'There is a constant supply of stock. Just trying to get that message through to everyone is a struggle', he said. There was a notice at the Aldi entrance, advising people of a limit of four packs of toilet roll per customer.

'I think people are panic-buying because they are afraid they might have to stay at home for a long time', said one shopper.

In Joyces Expert in Clonard, the biggest selling electrical item was the freezer. 'They're flying out', said staff member Alan Prendergast, pointing to a line of freezers boxed up and ready for delivery.

'We've sold loads of them. They've been our bestseller over the past few days'.

Enniscorthy Guardian