With Victoria now in the grip of a state of emergency following the spread of the coronavirus, supermarket chains expect the status will lead to more panic buying.
Over the weekend Bairnsdale’s supermar-kets were swamped with customers stocking up on non-perishable food items, such as pasta, rice and long life milk.
Queues formed outside the main chains, Woolworths and Coles, well before 7am.
“It was just crazy town,” a supermarket worker told the News.
“There were about 50 people lined up at 6.30am waiting to get in.
“It was my day off but I was called in to help.” The acting manager of Woolworths, Daniel Gallasch, said coronavirus panic had “spread like wildfire”.
He said while there was an ongoing de-mand for toilet paper, tissues, paper towel and baby wipes, panic buying had now spread to any form of long life food.
This included things such as cans of tomatoes, tuna and baked beans, as well as other durable items like flour, vinegar and baby formula.
“Anything that has a decent date, be it pasta or rice, is pretty much going,” Mr Gallasch said.
He said people were also stockpiling mince meat and sausages with reports many concerned shoppers were filling up their freezers.
“I’ve been involved in supermarkets for 25 years and people have never panicked like this before,” Mr Gallasch said.
“People are buying whatever they can, the weekend was the busiest we’ve ever been.”
Woolworths Bairnsdale called in 20-30 extra staff just to cope with the demand as shelves were cleared.
“It still wasn’t enough, we still need a lot more,” Mr Gallasch said.
“We’ve had to limit supplies to people as we simply can’t keep up stock demand.”
Woolworths has stuck posters on its win-dows and in some aisles warning that verbal abuse and aggressive or violent behaviour will not be tolerated following incidents in other parts of the country.
However, Mr Gallasch said he hasn’t seen any aggressive customers.
“Most of them understand the situation and have been pretty good,” he said.
It was a similar story at Coles, staff being wiped off their feet with unprecedented de-mand repeated.
Store manager, Kym Albrecht, described it as “ridiculous”.
“We’ve not got enough team members, everyone is really maxed out, but we’re doing the best we can,” she said.
Ms Albrecht said while runs on stock had initially pertained to toilet paper, tissues and nappies, it had gradually increased to flour and rice, but “in the end it was everything”.
She said transport companies were strug-gling to keep up supplies as shelves quickly emptied once they were restocked.
“There’re not enough trucks and truck driv-ers,” Ms Albrecht said.
“We don’t normally cater for a pandemic.” Similar scenes unfolded at Aldi over the weekend with no trollies being available at one stage.
At Lucke’s Fresh Food Market, the stam-pede commenced on Friday and was still continuing on Monday.
“It was manic on Monday,” Cathy Lucke said.
“We sold twice as much as we normally would on a Monday.”
Ms Lucke said sausages and mince were walking out the door.
“We have it today and we’ll have it tomor-row, we will just keep mincing because we have our own butchers,” she said.
“We’ll get more in, it won’t be an issue, we’re not going to run out anytime soon.”
Lucke’s Fresh Food Market has been im-pacted by private schools cancelling their usual camping trips to East Gippsland.
“One of the schools cancelled on Friday and the rest cancelled today (Monday),” Ms Lucke said.
“That’s knocked us around a bit on a whole-sale level because we cater for that, we don’t just rely on retail.”
Like other big supermarket chains, Lucke’s has also depleted supplies of toilet paper and flour.
“It is what it is,” Ms Lucke said.
“We’ve never seen anything like this before.” However, she said running out of fresh food would simply not happen.
“If people are happy to eat a steak or a chicken with a salad, then it won’t be a prob-lem,” she said.
A Woolworths shopper the News spoke to on Monday didn’t appear too panicked by the pandemonium.
“I’m just doing what everyone else is doing,” she said, stocking up on essentials.
“Who knows what is going to happen. I’m more worried for the little kids and elderly. I have grandchildren so I’ll stock up.”
Murray Bretherton, from Swan Reach, said while he was concerned about the coron-avirus, he hasn’t panicked.
“It’s ridiculous, I’m sure they’ve got toilet rolls at home but if they can buy another arm-ful they will,” he said.
James Millgate, of Bairnsdale, agreed peo-ple should remain calm.
“It’s only going to get worse and the more people see empty spaces, the more they’ll panic,” he said.
From yesterday (Tuesday) Woolworths set aside an hour of shopping for just the elderly and disabled between 7-8am.
A Bairnsdale retailer has run out of freezers after selling six on the weekend.
IMAGE: A meat shelf in Woolworths on Monday morning prior to being restocked. K243-5493