MILLIONS of Brits stayed at home yesterday, Friday 13th, leaving town and city centres ghostly quiet and rail and Tube stations almost empty.
Shopper numbers dropped and even carriages on rush-hour trains were sparsely occupied following PM Boris Johnson’s plea to “stay off if you’ve got a cough”.
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And with many offices likely to be shut on Monday as people work from home, supermarket chiefs were expecting more panic buying today.
Retail experts have also warned that Covid-19 could cause problems in the supply chain from farmer to shelf.
Shopping numbers in non-food stores have dropped by up to a third while, online, they are up by 70 per cent.
Lisa Hooker, of professional services firm PwC, forecast that bigger shopping centres will continue to bear the brunt.
She said: “Retailers are bracing themselves for a tough few weeks. Brits are nervous about being in busy shopping areas.
“Smaller local market towns are set to do better as families shop local and avoid packed areas.”
Meanwhile, rail users said stations were quieter in cities including London, Sheffield, Birmingham, Cambridge, Glasgow and Edinburgh.
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One Twitter user said: “It’s so quiet for the rush-hour train to Newcastle . . . everyone in scarves or masks and you can tell the sheer fear has hit.”
Another wrote: “Eerily quiet on the trains . . . has the feel of those weird days between Christmas and New Year.”
A Rail Delivery Group spokesman said: “We are seeing fewer people choosing to travel.
“Our primary focus is to keep our passengers and our people safe, and the country moving.”
He said rail firms were enhancing their cleaning on trains and at stations and added that the government was not advising against public transport other than for those with Covid-19 symptoms.
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Shop bosses said supplies were still regular with shelves being restocked due to sophisticated ordering systems.
They say there will be enough to go round but warned gaps are likely to appear on the shelves if shoppers “selfishly grab everything”.
Andrew Opie, of the British Retail Consortium — which represents all the main supermarkets — said: “Our members continue to work round-the-clock to ensure consumers have access to the products they need.
“Retailers are putting in place the measures necessary to meet the current increase in demand.
“Where people are self-isolating it is not just up to supermarkets, but also friends and neighbours to support them in getting the goods they need.
“This is a time for everyone to come together and support one another, particularly those who are vulnerable.”
One senior supermarket director said: “It is going to be very challenging. Even at full pace with no staff off ill, in stores and also at our suppliers or among drivers, we have gaps.
“We would love to be able to get more paracetamol but we cannot lay our hands on it. Most is from India, which has an export ban.
This is a time for everyone to come together and support one another, particularly those who are vulnerable.
Andrew Opie, British Retail Consortium
“And getting Italian and now potentially French wine is not without its problems.
“With loo roll, we are at the stage where we don’t think people can fit more in their homes but they are stocking up still.”
Tesco has limited shoppers to five items for products in high demand, such as anti-bacterial gel, pasta, toilet rolls, UHT milk and tinned veg.
There were fears yesterday that supplies could be hit as drivers and staff in factories and shops start to go sick.
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Tim Denison, director of retail intelligence at research specialist Ipsos, said: “Shops and restaurants need workers to serve customers and as the pandemic grows they won’t be there.
“People also need to make and get goods to outlets. Farmers, factories processing and making foods, depots and delivery firms — they all need staff.
“Well-stocked depots still need a forklift-truck driver to load the lorry.”
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