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Get Lost: Melbourne shoppers are raiding our supermarkets

By Ivy Jensen

PEOPLE are calling for ‘locals only’ at shops in Echuca-Moama as people from as far away as Melbourne are arriving by the busloads and gutting the shelves of local shops.

Our panic buying has become more contagious than coronavirus, with shelves stripped of every food source; cleaners and medical supplies.

In Melbourne and some larger regional centres police have been forced to supervise queues, some shoppers have been charged and fights have become common.

There is a groundswell of people calling on local shops to ask for identification so locals have a chance to get the products they need on a daily basis.

Campaspe Shire does not have the power to intervene at that level, business groups within town are calling for buyer restraint and Member for Murray Plains Peter Walsh has also issued a ‘community appeal’.

He said “times of crisis can bring out the best and the worst of people”.

“Panic buying and reports of people travelling out of Melbourne to strip supermarkets bare are extremely concerning,’’ Mr Walsh said.

“This behaviour doesn’t help anyone in a time of crisis — I’d urge people to be sensible and considerate of others,’’ he said.

“One of the reasons the Federal Government has been providing regular updates is to ensure people have certainty and immediate access to information.

‘‘All the expert advice is telling us that if people are sensible about their lifestyle and comply with preventative measures that there will be a flattening of the curve and we can slow the spread of COVID-19,’’ he said.

“Advice at this stage is that there is no need for mass closures of our schools. According to current advice, the best place for students is at school.

“Closing schools will also create issues in the workforce by putting added strain on the health system at a time when we need to make sure all health professionals are available to respond.

“In Echuca, we have access to a great healthcare system that is staffed by dedicated health professionals.

“We know they will come under pressure as this crisis continues. Their dedication will make sure our community is cared for in the best possible way.”

There is no doubt if the reports Melburnians are arriving by the busload and cleaning out Echuca-Moama supermarkets, things are going to get a whole lot worse.

Echuca Community Church’s Foodbank saw 75 people drop in for some much-needed groceries on Monday afternoon.

Pauline Aitken, who runs the relief centre from her garage, said the demand for food was unprecedented.

“I’ve noticed an increase in people over the past week, but half of the food went on Monday,” she said.

“We’re seeing a lot of new people coming in, as well as our regular older people because they can’t get food at the supermarket.

“They’re mainly after bread and milk and the basics.

“I had a lady coming in for fruit and vegies because it was her pay day and there was nothing left in the supermarket. She was extremely grateful.”

The relief centre gets its food from Bendigo Foodbank and Aldi supermarket, which are also running low on food.

“We still have a fair bit of food left so we will see how we go today (Tuesday) and the rest of the week and then decide what we should do,” Pauline said.

“I’ve never seen this before so it’s a bit uncertain about what to do. We’ll just have to play it by ear.”

Echuca Neighbourhood House manager Sarah Peake also expects to see an increase in demand in food relief as supermarket shelves remain empty.

“We believe there will be a massive increase in the Food is Free program, which is stocked twice daily at the moment,” she said.

“People can’t get food in the supermarket, so we are preparing for a massive influx of low-income earning and the elderly to take up our Food is Free program.

“We haven’t added any special or additional services as yet but we have a committee meeting on Tuesday night to assess the situation.”

Moama’s Mariet Robinson, who is aged in her 70s, said a Woolworths cashier told her busloads of Melbourne residents were descending on regional towns such as Echuca-Moama and raiding the supermarkets of food and essentials.

“Today was the third day I went to all the supermarkets to get some basic groceries and there was nothing left,” she said on Tuesday.

“There was no meat, apart from kangaroo steak which I won’t eat, and not even a grape in the fruit and vegie aisle.

“I don’t think it’s fair that people from out of town come here and buy everything in the supermarket, leaving nothing for the locals.”

In Melbourne 3AW’s Neil Mitchell has also been told supermarkets in Kilmore, Ararat, Traralgon, Wallan and Colac have been ‘‘cleaned out by city vultures’’.

Crossenvale Community House co-ordinator Sheridan Clark said it was busy supporting its senior citizens in Mitchell St and disadvantaged seniors who weren’t able to access the supermarkets.

“Most of our food that we get from Bendigo Foodshare goes to our disadvantaged clients and we’re continuing to support them,” she said.

“However, we expect our next order may be limited because so many people are buying up in the supermarkets. I think all Foodbank places will be struggling at the moment.”

As for the Crossenvale seniors bus service, Sheridan said it would run as normal until told otherwise.

“Numbers have gone down in the last couple of weeks but I’m unsure if that has anything to do with coronavirus,” she said.

“We have put in hygiene practices so our people remain safe. We will still be running our seniors to medical appointments until we’re told not to.

“We will also carry on with our normal programs to people in need.”