Coronavirus: Supermarkets urge calm amid flurry of COVID-19 panic buying in Auckland

Supermarkets are urging shoppers to "keep calm and kind" after New Zealand's first community COVID-19 case in 170 days prompted a flurry of panic buying on Tuesday afternoon.

Videos and photos from supermarkets across Auckland have lit up social media, showing empty shelves and queues snaking around car parks, entrances and aisles as people stock up on the essentials ahead of a potential escalation in alert levels.

People could be seen waiting outside Countdown supermarkets in Mt Eden and Manukau in their droves, while a lengthy queue of trolleys laden with groceries had formed at a Devonport New World.

Shoppers Newshub spoke to outside Countdown Mt Eden say the supermarket was "pumping" within an hour of the announcement, with dozens of people already in line and trolleys piled high.

People waiting outside a Countdown supermarket in Mt Eden.
People waiting outside a Countdown supermarket in Mt Eden. Photo credit: Newshub.

The panic buying comes after the Ministry of Health on Tuesday revealed a community case of COVID-19 had been identified in Auckland and would be placed under investigation. No link to the border nor managed isolation and quarantine facilities has yet been established.

While supermarkets are making a killing, they're reminding Kiwis there's more than enough groceries to go around and urging calm.

"We're already in the process of preparing our stores for a change in alert level protocols, and ask customers to keep calm and kind while we do this," says Countdown general manager of corporate affairs Kiri Hannifin.

"We know this is unnerving news for everyone, but we are well-practiced at shopping safely during alert level changes and we can do it again."

Antoinette Laird, head of corporate affairs at Foodstuffs - which supplies New World, PAK'nSAVE and Four Square supermarkets - says while a potential lockdown is "unsettling", there are plenty of groceries on the shelves.

"Fortunately, our North Island and South Island DCs have plenty of extra capacity and the team have been holding extra volumes of key essential items should it be required in a case like this. So, we are again asking customers to shop normal and be kind to our teams and each other.

"Our teams are preparing to move alert levels and we ask customers to be patient as we prepare to roll out the various safety precautions required to keep everyone safe."

Countdown and Foodstuffs are both asking customers to wear a mask in-store and use the COVID Tracer app as they come in.

"At the moment all of our stores are open and we will have physical distancing measures in place, as well as extra cleaning and hygiene practises on top of what we do normally," Hannifin said.

"We're seeing extra demand for online shopping and remind everyone that all our stores are open and there is plenty of food and other groceries so there’s no need to buy more than you need. Together, we'll get through this too."

People outside Countdown supermarket in St Luke's.
People outside Countdown supermarket in St Luke's. Photo credit: Newshub.

In February, after three new cases prompted a level 3 lockdown in Auckland, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern remonstrated with Kiwis not to head straight to the shops in panic.

"You'll remember that supermarkets, pharmacies, primary produce retailers and petrol stations, they will all remain open throughout - so no need after this announcement to rush out to get any essential items," she said.

"Those providers... will all be open and continue to be open."

However her pleas had limited effect, with queues extending outside supermarket entrances within minutes and shelves rapidly emptying.