Coronavirus: Supermarkets put limits on high-demand products amid COVID-19 lockdown surge

Kiwis are still rushing to supermarkets on day one of Auckland's COVID-19 lockdown, with some of the country's biggest supermarkets placing limits on products to stop people buying in bulk.

However both Countdown and Foodstuffs - which supplies New World, PAK'nSAVE and Four Square - say visitor numbers have dropped off since Sunday night, when shoppers emptied shelves and queued in droves ahead of the 11:59pm lockdown deadline.

The chaos unfolded after the Prime Minister's announcement that Auckland would move to alert level 3 and the rest of New Zealand to level 2 from midnight, following the emergence of three new community COVID-19 cases in south Auckland on Sunday.

Jacinda Ardern attempted to stop panic-buying by urging Kiwis not to rush to the supermarket, but Google visitor data and social media posts show a major surge in shoppers had coincided with her speech.

Countdown's general manager of corporate affairs Kiri Hannifin said its Auckland supermarkets were still getting more visitors than usual, but was pleased to see the mad rush had largely died down by Monday.

"Our stores are busy - not as busy as last night, but they are definitely busy. Our online services are very busy," she told Newshub.

Foodstuffs' North Island chief executive Chris Quin says a few of their Auckland stores also saw a bit of a rush on Sunday night, but it wasn't anything they hadn't seen before.

"We haven't seen too many queues today; I think New Zealanders' trust in us to have essentials on shelves when they come in, plus the wet weather, seems to be keeping people inside," he said.

Even still, Foodstuffs has taken the decision to reintroduce limits on high-demand items at New World, PAK'nSAVE and Four Square stores around the North Island.

The measure, which also came into force during the first lockdown in an attempt to deter Kiwis from buying stock in bulk and leaving shelves bare, means customers wanting to buy flour, toilet paper, sugar and other baking products will have to show restraint.

Quin says these limits - which will be monitored and adjusted as time goes on - will ensure Foodstuffs can moderate demand, manage supply and enable more customers to access the essentials they need.

"Everyone deserves a fair go at the essentials they need to look after their family," he said.

There are not yet any plans to place limits on Countdown products, but Hannifin says it's something the supermarket chain is "keeping a really close eye on".

"Because we've been told it's [the lockdown's] three days, we feel quite comfortable with how things are at the moment, but it's something we monitor hour by hour," she said.

"We're confident we can do what we need to do to make sure there's enough stock on the shelves - especially the stock we've seen go out the door very quickly like flour, toilet paper and pasta. We've got good stock build on those items, so we're pretty confident the supply chain's going well.

"It's something we'll keep an eye on because our aim is to make sure anybody can get anything they need in our stores at any time. The reason we put limits on last time is because that wasn't happening. But this time, so long as people shop normally, we're absolutely fine."

Both Foodstuffs and Countdown supermarkets have imposed a range of measures to keep shoppers safe amid the new COVID-19 scare.

Countdown has greeters at each entrance encouraging people to scan in and keep their distance from one another, as well as put markings in place for queueing. They have also closed every second checkout and have staff wearing masks.

Foodstuffs have increased QR poster signage at their supermarkets, introduced perspex protective screens at checkout, instructed staff to wear masks and put in place floor decals to show the appropriate two-metre physical distancing length.

Quin says while it's not a position Kiwis want to be in, we've been here before and supermarkets can handle it.

"Our supply chain is robust, we have been carrying more stock as a precaution and we know what we need to do to look after New Zealanders. Please shop normal, scan in, wash your hands and stay home if you're unwell, and we'll get through this together again."