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Major supermarkets have said they are working with government to “keep food moving through the system” and are urging customers not to panic buy during the coronavirus outbreak.

A letter co-ordinated by the British Retail Consortium and co-signed by Sainsbury’s; Co-op; Lidl; Tesco; Aldi; Waitrose; Marks & Spencer; Asda; Iceland; Morrisons; Ocado and Costcutter said they were making more deliveries to stores to ensure shelves are stocked during the pandemic.

It also said that those working in online delivery and click-and-collect services  are running at “full capacity”.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said: “Retailers are working incredibly hard to keep shops well stocked and deliveries running as smoothly as possible.

“In the face of unprecedented demand as a result of coronavirus, food retailers have come together to ask their customers to support each other to make sure everyone can get access to the products they need.”

Separately Sainsbury’s chief executive Mike Coupe emailed customers directly over the weekend to say: “We have more food and other essential items coming to us from manufacturers and into our warehouses and distribution centres.”

He said that in the past two weeks Sainsbury’s had: ordered more stock of essential items from our suppliers; put more capacity into our warehouses and set limits on the sale a small number of items, including some cleaning products, soap and pain relief.

“There are gaps on shelves because of increased demand, but we have new stock arriving regularly and we’re doing our best to keep shelves stocked,” he said.