Virus Outbreak Stockpiling

FILE - In this March 3, 2020 file photo, empty shelves for disinfectant wipes wait for restocking, as concerns grow around COVID-19, in New York. Legions of nervous hoarders are stocking up on canned goods, frozen dinners, toilet paper, and cleaning products. Such hoarding that's expected to last for weeks has created big challenges for discounters and grocery stores as well as food delivery services. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)

NEW YORK — Grocers big and small are hiring more workers, paying overtime and limiting purchases on certain high-demand items as they scramble to restock shelves that have been wiped out by panic shopping in response to the global viral pandemic.

Amazon said Tuesday that it will only accept shipments from suppliers of cleaning equipment, medical supplies and household goods at its warehouses for the next three weeks to fill surging demand. It is hiring 100,000 people across the U.S. to keep up with a crush of orders as more people stay at home and shop online. It will also temporarily raise pay by $2 an hour through the end of April for hourly employees.

Many grocers are also limiting purchases of products like Purell sanitizers, Lysol cleaning spray and canned soup so that there is enough to go around. And companies like Walmart and Wegman’s are curbing store hours for the public in order to give workers time to restock shelves.

The moves come as industry executives insist supply chains remain strong despite frustrated customers showing up to stores and sometimes walking away empty-handed.

“When you have runs at grocery stores, there is a little time needed to catch up,” said Lowell Randel, vice president for government and legal affairs at the Global Cold Chain Alliance, a trade group representing the refrigerated warehouse and delivery industry.

The National Retail Federation and the Retail Industry Leaders Association on Sunday urged shoppers to restrain themselves, asking that if they didn’t need an item in the next two weeks to leave it for someone else who does.

“Hoarding and stockpiling creates unnecessary gaps between the time that someone who truly needs a product can find it back on retailers’ shelves,” they said in a statement. “This is particularly important for our most vulnerable neighbors — the elderly and those who are struggling with other health issues.”

Some stores like Stop & Shop, a Northeastern grocery chain, and Australia’s Woolworth are implementing special hours to accommodate elderly customers, who have been avoiding crowds that leave them susceptible to COVID-19, the disease that has infected nearly 130,000 people worldwide and caused more than 4,800 deaths. Jim Barth, owner of a family-owned butcher in New Providence, N.J., recently started a delivery service catering to older or sick customers but stopped taking online orders after getting inundated with other shoppers who were also trying to avoid crowds.

To help ease the bottleneck in the U.S., the federal government has suspended rules that limit the number of hours that truckers can drive. And on Sunday, President Donald Trump had a conference call with 30 food, grocery and beverage retail executives who recommended certain actions like establishing a point person in the administration to oversee coordination with various government agencies in order to deliver essential food supplies faster to stores.

Meanwhile, manufacturing facilities are seeking exemptions to state and local restrictions that limit the size of public gatherings so that they can keep moving their products.

And retailers are wrestling with labor shortages as workers worry about being exposed to the coronavirus and stay home.

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