SOUTH Antrim MP Paul Girvan has warned people about the deterimental effect of panic buying and has warned that bulk-buying may prevent older or more vulnerable people from accessing the supplies they need.
In an open letter, Mr Girvan said that people had a duty to protect their loved ones and society at large by restricting their movement.
“Supermarkets in recent days have witnessed their shelves being cleared of essentials like toilet roll and soap.” he said.
“Panic buying does not help, in fact it makes things worse.
“I have been speaking with older members of our community who have been struggling to get any amount of the basics during their shop.
“Many of those contacting me are simply unable to make multiple journeys in a day to pick up items from a supermarket.
“These are the most susceptible people in South Antrim to COVID-19 yet they cannot get what they need because of other people needlessly stock-piling items at a rate they simply could not use.”
Mr Girvan said that local supermarkets are reporting no problems with the supply-chain of essential items.
“They have stock of essentials however it takes time to get these items onto the shelves and it takes longer whenever people are clearing the shelves needlessly.” he said.
“We have a responsibility as individuals not to act in a way that will harm the most vulnerable in our community.
“I am asking those who are stock piling to think about what they are doing ad why they are doing it.
“Do you really need everything in your shopping basket?
“Is there enough for your friends and family if they came into the shop later in the day?
“Our community will cope with the outbreak of COVID-19. Nonetheless we must look after those who need a little more help and a little more time to do life as we might.
“It will be easier if we can all access the essentials in the shop.
“The message is simple: Don’t bulk-buy.”
A number of supermarkets including Lidl are now prioritising early opening or preferential service for elderly shoppers.
In a statement, Lidl, which operates from The Junction, said: “We’ve been listening to your feedback and we will be implementing priority shopping hours for the elderly across all 39 Lidl stores in Northern Ireland until further notice.
“We ask that the public respect this time period to allow more vulnerable customers to pick up the food and supplies they need.
“Starting March 17, the mornings will run from 9am – 11am every day and will include prioritised queuing and additional assistance for our older customers.
“We may not be able to actively monitor this at all times as our store teams are required on checkouts and restocking shelves, so we kindly ask that customers respect this measure and plan their shopping trips around this timeframe.”
Iceland is also planning to dedicate their first hour of opening to over the over-65s from Wednesday onwards.
“At Iceland Ireland, we would like to reassure all of our customers that we will continue to operate as normally as possible over the coming days and weeks while following guidelines from the government.”
Meanwhile, the Good Morning Antrim telephone befriending and support service will expand services which it already provides to clients in the Toome, Randalstown, Antrim, Parkgate, Templepatrick and Crumlin area.
A spokesperson said: “We also have the capacity and can access remote technology to expand our telephone service, in addition to those we already call.
“We will also be considering home delivery of essential items such as toiletries, food and prescriptions.
“Anyone wishing to self-refer or make an onward referral can contact the Family Caring Centre to receive a 'shortened' version of our standard Registration/Referral Form.
“Anyone wishing to support the service on a voluntary basis can make contact in the same way. by telephoning 02894 464619 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.”
A number of local people have also taken to social media to help co-ordinate a community response to assist those who may be advised to lock down or who cannot physically leave their homes.
Journey Community Church has also offered to assist with shopping, chemist pickups and general help.
Local businesses have also been getting in on the aid effort, with the Yew Tree Bistro donating meals to staff at the Emergency Department at Antrim Area Hospital.
With healthcare workers and their families at particular risk of exposure to the virus, a number of pharmacies and health centres are also taking precautions, with Randalstown Pharmacy asking anyone with cold or flu symptoms or who has traveled to any coronavirus hotspots in the past 14 days to phone ahead and remain in their vehicle, to which their prescription will be delivered.
Antrim Castle Surgery has also asked people to ring ahead before coming to the premises.
Over the weekend a slew of sporting fixtures and social events were cancelled or postponed in an effort to keep the public safe.