Friday 20 March 2020 / 10:30 PM Coronavirus / Luke Pollard

The government must use largescale public advertising campaign to protect public health, tackle stockpiling and prevent food shortages

Labour has criticised a lack of leadership from the Government on guaranteeing food security during the Coronavirus outbreak. There has been increasing confusion and panic-buying, worsened by a lack of clear communication by the government, which has created shortages of food and other essentials in some supermarkets.

The Labour party is calling for the government to use a largescale public advertising campaign, including across social media, to amplify public health advice, provide clearer guidance on social distancing, tackle misinformation and provide assurances to people about vital issues like food security. The government’s communication has been confused and unclear, with rumours of an imminent lockdown of London allowed to swirl for nearly 24 hours before being denied and key information being repeatedly leaked out.

Labour has called for the government to set guidance for all major supermarkets to follow on any necessary changes to opening hours, support and protection for supermarket workers and delivery drivers, any required rationing of key products, plans to redeploy workers from struggling sectors to food supply and any other changes to food services, such as slots for older people to shop in. It has also urged the government to put plans in place for if a food shortage was to arise.

Some supermarkets are also beginning to ration the amount of essential items that customers can purchase, while still others are reportedly turning some customers away during certain times of the day. Without the government providing clearer coordination and public information, well-meaning measures such as these could lead to even greater public panic over food levels.

Luke Pollard MP, Labour’s Shadow DEFRA Secretary, said:

“Everyone needs to be confident during a crisis like this that they can get enough food for themselves and their family. It’s much harder to make responsible decisions about food and other essential supplies when you don’t know what products your local shop might be running low on, or even rationing.

“Too often, the government seems on the back foot when it comes to responding to this crisis. Its communication is unclear and it is leaving it to others, such as supermarkets, football clubs and postal workers, to take the steps needed to protect public health themselves.

”Boris Johnson needs to show leadership on this issue and set out clearly, both to suppliers and the public, how action can be coordinated to ensure everybody has access to the food they need.

“We need plans that will be suitable for next week, not last week. We need the government to be one step ahead, not one step behind, in this crisis.”