British food retailers are urging customers to shop responsibly during the coronavirus outbreak.
British Retail Consortium members sent a joint letter to consumers urging everyone to work together to ensure there is enough food for the country.
It comes as scores of shoppers have been panic-buying essentials, including toilet paper, as fears intensify over the spread of Covid-19.
Online shoppers faced virtual queues, website malfunctions and delays on Sunday, as outlets with delivery and click-and-collect services struggled to cope with a surge in demand.
Waitrose’s website and mobile phone app went offline for a number of hours, while those shopping on Ocado’s online store were placed in a holding queue as customers vied for delivery slots.
Sainsbury’s and Tesco customers also faced a scarcity of delivery dates, with delays of around two weeks in some areas.
Retailers are currently working “round the clock” to help customers get the items they need, the BRC said.
The letter aims to reassure customers, while calling on them to support each other during the crisis.
It said: “We know that many of you are worried about the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19).
“We want to let you know that we are doing everything we can so that you and your families have the food and essentials you need.”
The letter added: “But we need your help too.
“We would ask everyone to be considerate in the way they shop.
“We understand your concerns, but buying more than is needed can sometimes mean that others will be left without.
“There is enough for everyone if we all work together.
“Together we can make sure we are looking out for family, friends, neighbours.
“Together we will care for those around us and those who are elderly, vulnerable or choosing to remain at home.”
Firms are working closely with the Government and suppliers, and have arranged more store deliveries to ensure shelves are stocked, the letter added.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, 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.”
Environment Secretary, George Eustice, said: “I fully support the call from British food retailers urging us all to be considerate in the way we shop and look out for our neighbours.
“By working together, our leading supermarkets have provided the reassurance there is plenty of stock available and people should buy products as they normally would.
“We are in regular contact with the food industry and retailers are continuing to monitor their supply chains and are taking all the necessary steps to ensure consumers have the food and supplies they need.”
As well as calling on customers to shop responsibly, some outlets have taken other steps to respond to the outbreak.
On Sunday, 2019 parliamentary candidate for Belfast West Paul Doherty tweeted his support for a branch of Iceland in the city which will reserve an hour each morning for only elderly customers.
The reserved shopping time, which had been suggested on social media previously and is set to start on Tuesday, received largely positive support.