DESPERATE supermarkets are calling for police protection over fears coronavirus panic-buying could lead to rioting.
Shelves have been stripped bare in stores across the UK as greedy shoppers bulk-buy essential items such as dry food, toilet paper and now even booze.
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Fights have erupted in some shops among frantic customers – with food retailers now urging the government for help from the police and even the military to stem the violence.
There are fears lawlessness could take over with riots breaking out in just weeks if the industry is unable to keep up with the 40 per cent surge in food production and distribution, The Telegraph reports.
Chiefs are also concerned shop workers could become victims of abuse if the hysteria continues in Britain.
An industry source said: “There is real concern over the safety of shop workers, especially if they are forced to ration items to customers.
“There has already been some unpleasant incidents around the country, but nobody wants to see matters escalate into a situation where there are riots and general civil disobedience.”
Supermarket giants are now considering introducing rationing in stores – with Sainsbury's confirming today it will limit sales of every item in store to stamp out panic-buying.
Customers will be able to buy a maximum of three of any grocery item and two of the most popular products, such as toilet paper, soap and UHT milk.
Waitrose and Tesco have also followed suit – with the latter suspending all-night opening in big stores and Waitrose forced to draft in hundreds of extra staff to cope with demand.
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Apocalyptic scenes in stores have become more frequent in recent weeks as the deadly disease continues to explode across the UK.
Yesterday, shocking footage showed stampeding shoppers brawling over loo roll in Home Bargains in Nottingham as desperate staff attempted to calm them down.
Booze-free shelves were also spotted in supermarkets after Boris Johnson warned people to avoid the pub.
The Government and food bosses have called for an end to panic buying — and ministers signalled they may now ration certain products if the mob mentality in stores continues.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has implored selfish shoppers to “behave responsibly” and “consider the impact that their stocking up might have on others”.
But shoppers have ignored their pleas – with hand sanitiser, bleach, tinned food and pasta all greedily bought in bulk.
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Queues have snaked around shops as customers wait 40 minutes for doors to open.
Others have been mugged for their shopping by Brits terrified the country will be placed on lockdown.
Ugly scenes this week saw shoppers clashing in a queue outside Costco in Essex as coronavirus chaos reached fever pitch.
Another Costco outlet in Chingford, North East London, was even forced to shut and call police after a stampede.
The last time the UK was plagued by riots was in 2011 when the police shooting of Mark Duggan in London sparked widespread unrest.
Cops had to draft in thousands of extra officers as revenge attacks saw missiles hurled, shops looted, people mugged and stores burnt to the ground as police lost control.
Nearly 200 officers were injured and five people died during the violence.
Police have now been given extra powers under an emergency coronavirus law to arrest people and put them in isolation to curb the spread of the killer bug.
The bill – to be introduced in the Commons this week – will allow officers to "detain" those who flout public health advice.
Cops are now monitoring crime trends to see if extra officers are needed at supermarkets as the virus continues to accelerate.
A government spokesman said: “It’s very important that everybody should behave responsibly and think about others when purchasing food.
"We’ve introduced new measures to make sure businesses can continue to keep food supply flowing, such as extending delivery hours to supermarkets to ensure shelves can be replenished more quickly.
“Representatives of our leading supermarkets have provided reassurance there is plenty of stock available.
“Police are monitoring crime trends and will prioritise resources to where most needed, but there is no intelligence to suggest widespread disorder as a result of coronavirus.
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