Supermarkets across the UK will add an extra 300,000 delivery slots in the coming weeks, but this will “still not be enough to meet demand”.
Environment secretary George Eustice told reporters at a daily coronavirus briefing over the weekend that hundreds of thousands of new delivery slots across the UK’s largest supermarkets will be added in efforts to meet staggering demand.
Delivery slots have already grown from 2.1 million at the beginning of the nationwide lockdown to 2.6 million, but this will now be extended to nearly three million.
Despite the dramatic expansion, Eustice warned many vulnerable customers may still not be able to access online delivery slots.
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“We recognise that there are others that are not clinically vulnerable and therefore not in that shielded group, but who may also be in need of help,” he said.
“Perhaps through having a disability, or another type of medical condition, or indeed being unable to draw on family and neighbours to help them.
“So we have been working with local authorities to ensure that those people can be allocated a volunteer shopper to help them get their food needs.”
Customers in this group, which are estimated to number anywhere between five and 19 million people, will now be redirected to local volunteer shopping groups from supermarket’s websites amid new government measures.
The UK’s grocery supply chain was also struggling due to a dramatic fall in the number of staff.
Eustice added: “The food supply chain has also seen a significant reduction in staff absence over recent weeks, as staff who had been self-isolating through suspected coronavirus have returned to work.
“Absence levels are down from a peak of typically 20 per cent in food businesses three weeks ago, to less than 10% at the end of last week, and, in some cases, individual companies reporting absences as low as 6%.”
The new measures come as the UK’s death toll from the coronavirus sadly passed 20,000, while nearly 153,000 people had tested positive.