Coronavirus: Why there is no need to be panic buying in Spain

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Coronavirus: Why there is no need to be panic buying in Spain
Empty shelves in a supermarket in the capital as panic buying sets in. Photos: AFP

With news that schools would be closed, companies sending workers home and amid fears that Spain could follow in the footsteps of Italy and declare a “lockdown”, it’s fair to say there is panic in the air.


Anyone who visited a supermarket on Tuesday or Wednesday, at least in Madrid, would be aware of empty shelves and long queues at the checkout as people brace themselves for a period of self-isolation and stockpile essentials

Across social media people have been sharing images of empty vegetable boxes, fridges devoid of fresh meat, and bare shelves where toilet paper should be.


Some supermarkets in the capital reported lines of up to 100 people at a time.

According to data collected by ASEDAS, a supermarket umbrella association, sales in some supermarkets on Tuesday alone had increased by 145 percent.


What products are flying off the shelves?

Tinned goods, fresh fruit, dried pasta, rice and milk are proving the hottest products this week along with of course toilet paper.

Cleaning products including bleach, soap and disinfectants are also flying off the shelves.


Most supermarkets and pharmacists sold out of sanitizing hand gel days ago.

But is it sensible to stockpile?

According to authorities ranging from Madrid’s City Hall supermarket chiefs, there is absolutely no need to be stockpiling because the supply chain is not threatened.

Begona M, the deputy mayor of Madrid even visited a distribution warehouse for one of the capitals supermarket chains to check all was in order. She sent out this message of calm. “We are not going to have a supply problem”.



Supermarket delivery services full to capacity

For those who want to avoid the mayhem of visiting the supermarket, might online ordering and delivery to the door prove a solution? 

Well, yes but there are reported difficulties from across the board of supermarkets with delivery slots not being available for up to a week in advance.  

Carrefour, Dia and Mercadona all report a "higher than usual demand" for online ordering but insist that they will boost the service to cope with demand. 

A look at the statistics should provide some reassurance.

Spain is officially the European country with more supermarkets per inhabitant than any other nation.

In fact there is one supermarket per 2,000 people, a figure that improves to one for 840 residents if you include smaller corner shops that sell just the basics.

Messages of calm

“If there is anything that will make the situation worse it is fear,” said Juan Roig, chairman of Mercadona supermarket chain, who insists that the reason shelves are empty is because people are stockpiling rather than because there is a shortage.

“In Mercadona, we are seeing no disruption to the supply chain beyond the shortage of hand sanitizing gels and alcohol cleansers. Apart from panic-buying reported in some of shops in Madrid and Vitoria (the two cities in Spain with concentrated outbreaks) on Tuesday, elsewhere in Spain, the situation is completely normal.”

He insists that products are being restocked daily.

“If you see the shelves are empty, that’s because they are sold out in that shop not because there aren’t more stocks in the warehouses. Our outlets are being restocked daily.”

Meanwhile  Aurelio del Pino, the head of ACES, an association representing large supermarket chains in Spain , assures that "supplies to the stores are absolutely guaranteed in every region of Spain."

What if you are put in quarantine?

If you are told by authorities that you are at possible risk because you have been in contact with someone who has since tested positive to the coronavirus, then you may be told to self-isolate at home for a period of 14 days. 

It seems sensible therefore to have some emergency goods at home to tide you over while you wait for deliveries as demand is higher than normal so you may be forced to wait several days. 

However, this doesn't mean you need to buy enough food to last for an entire two-week period, you can always ask friends or neighbours to drop off fresh produce at your door if need be.

And don't forget take-away delivery services are still operating, so although you won't want to rely on them for two weeks, it could tide you over until more supplies arrive. 

Useful vocab:

compra del búnker: Stockpiling

largas colas: Long queues

estantes vacíos: empty shelves

desabastecimiento: shortage

acaparamiento: hoarding



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