Local shops put restrictions in place as coronavirus impacts country

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads, so too does fear and panic-buying.

Locally, supermarkets are reportedly as busy as they would be in the week before Christmas.

All are suffering shortages on toilet paper - with empty shelves the new norm. But there are now also low supplies of toilet paper substitutes like paper towels, wet wipes and tissues in each supermarket in the Valley.

Woolworths has introduced a one pack per transaction restriction on loo paper sales. Ritchies IGA at the Nambucca Plaza has done the same. Foodworks in Macksville are allowing customers to purchase two packs per shop. And at this stage Bowraville IGA is yet to put a limit on bog roll.

Lairds Friendly Grocer at Scotts Heads has also had to limit toilet paper sales to two packs per person after noticing people from outside the community driving in to stock up.

Woolworths Macksville (early March). Photo submitted by John Pollock

Woolworths Macksville (early March). Photo submitted by John Pollock

There are also bare shelves Valley-wide where hand sanitiser usually sits.

And Woolworths has had to introduce restrictions on some food staples, like dry pasta.

Anyone feeling guilty about prior bouts of panic buying are also unable to return excess items, with Woolworths issuing a notice that their 'Change of Mind' policy is not being honoured on items including toilet paper, paper towels, tissues and serviettes, pain relief medicines, cleaning products, feminine hygiene products, baby wipes, pasta and pasta sauce, canned food, flour, cooking oil and rice.

Macksville Foodworks store manager Matthew Ward said the only thing they've had to restrict is toilet paper.

"We're finding our customers aren't feeling the same need to panic buy," he said.

"But we're getting a lot of new customers at the moment - likely people who can't find what they need in Woolworths and are coming here to find it. We're hoping we can keep them after all this is over."

While they're only limiting toilet paper sales, they are experiencing difficulties ordering from their usual supplier.

"Our warehouses are putting limits on us," he said.

"When we place orders we're getting five or six sheets back of stock that is unavailable."

He said cheap brands like Black and Gold are being snapped up, and suppliers don't have the stock to replace them.

Chris Peacock is the store manager for Ritchies IGA and is facing the same issue.

"We just ask everyone to please be patient - we're doing the best we can.

"Our staff are doing a fantastic job working with customers and getting stock on shelves as fast as possible."

Because of nation-wide shortages on some items, Woolworths made the call yesterday to suspend its 'Click and Collect' service.

Woolworths has said the decision was made to allow its staff to focus on in-store customers, and to give the Woolworths supply chain a chance to catch up to demand.

Local customers expecting to pick up their order yesterday were notified by text message that it had been cancelled and they would receive a full refund.

Delivery services are still being offered, but with a notice that many items are unavailable.

In another measure to combat issues due to "unprecedented demand", Woolworths today announced it will be introducing temporary measures across its stores to help support the shopping needs of the elderly and people with disability in the community.

From tomorrow until at least Friday, Woolworths supermarkets will be opening exclusively for the elderly and those with a disability to shop from 7am to 8am.

All others will be allowed in from 8am. Access to the store prior to this time will require a relevant Government issued concession card.

The revised opening hours will be in place until this Friday (20th March), with Woolworths to review opening arrangements at that point.

"While we'll continue to do our very best to restock our stores during this period of unprecedented demand, we know many of our elderly customers have been missing out on essential items when they shop," Woolworths Supermarkets Managing Director Claire Peters said.

This temporary measure will give them, and those with a disability, the opportunity to shop before our stores officially open - helping them obtain the essential items they need most in a less crowded environment.

"We continue to encourage all Australians to be mindful of those in our communities who might need extra help at this time. Now - more than ever - we need to be kind to each other, especially to those most vulnerable."

Chris Peacock has said that Ritchies IGA will also be prioritising its elderly and vulnerable customers each morning.

"We're not going to stop people from entering the store, but we will be making sure our elderly customers are looked after," he said.

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