REPORTS reached me at the weekend that some Asian shopkeepers were engaging in profiteering, with fresh green chillis, for example, marked up to £17.99 per kg and karela (bitter gourd) priced at £9.99 per kg.
Other reports spoke of hoarding. One house was apparently packed to the rafters with bags of atta (flour), rice and other essentials, which were most likely to be sold on eBay for a huge profit.
Lord Rami Ranger, a respected figure in the Indian community, warned that both profiteering and hoarding “are criminal offences”.
Those who engaged in such practices “are ripping people off,” he raged. “Toilet rolls are being sold for £18 a pack. You can report them to trading inspectors. If shopkeepers cannot show invoices to back up claims of higher cost of purchase, they can be prosecuted.”
He said that shopkeepers also had a duty to ensure that people did not buy “three of everything”.
Earlier, Lord Ranger had posted a picture of an Asian shopper with his trolley piled high with bags and bags of rice and captioned it, “Disgusting.”
Last Sunday (22), there were chaotic scenes caused by panic buying in Southall. I wanted to ask Virendra Sharma, the Labour MP for Ealing Southall, whether there was something he could do to discourage panic buying, profiteering and hoarding. He wasn’t immediately available, but perhaps he will comment in due course.
George Eustice, secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, has said: “Buying more than you need means that others may be left without. We all have a role to play in ensuring we all come through this together.”
Standing next to him at the Downing Street press conference last Saturday (22), NHS England’s national medical director Stephen Powis said that panic buyers should be “ashamed” for causing needless shortages.
Eustice referred to how the whole country had been moved by a heart-rending message posted by a nurse.
Dawn Bilbrough said in her tearful video message that after finishing hospital duty she had had been unable to buy any food at a supermarket: “There is no food and veg – I had a little cry in there.
“I am not sure how I am supposed to stay healthy. I am a critical care nurse and I have just finished 40 hours of work. Now you have people stripping the shelves of basic foods.
“You just need to stop it, because it is people like me that’s going to be looking after you when you are at your lowest. So just stop it. Please.”
In the ultimate analysis, it should be possible for supermarkets to go through their sales records and identify the culprits who have bought vastly more than they need – and ask them to return the goods.
Meanwhile, Asians should be good citizens – which most are – and not put at risk the lives of the weaker and more vulnerable members of society.