Sainsbury’s is to restrict purchases on all grocery products and shut its cafes and fresh food counters as supermarkets step up their efforts to combat coronavirus panic buying.

Customers will now only be able to buy a maximum of three of any grocery product.

A cap of two is going to be imposed on the most popular items, such as toilet roll, soap and UHT milk.

Britain’s food retailers have urged households to refrain from hoarding goods after worries about the virus prompted heavy demand for products such as toilet roll and UHT milk.

But they are now taking further steps as the problems continue – with the extent of panic purchasing appearing to widen.

Tesco has suspended all-night opening in big stores and Waitrose drafting in hundreds of extra staff to cope with demand.

Morrisons reported that it had seen a considerable degree of stockpiling and urged customers to just buy what we need.

Business secretary Alok Sharma said supermarkets were taking sensible measures and that he was confident in the resilience of the sector.

He told Sky News he understood the rationale of people wanting to stock up but said most consumers would be extremely sensible.

As shelves get restocked I’m quite sure people will take the logical steps and actually shop as they would normally shop when they go to do their weekly or daily shop, Mr Sharma said.

Sainsbury’s chief executive Mike Coupe said: We have enough food coming into the system, but are limiting sales so that it stays on shelves for longer and can be bought by a larger numbers of customers.

Meat, fish and pizza counters and cafes are being closed from Thursday to free up lorry and warehouse capacity, as well as shelf-stacking time, for essential items to be replenished.

Sainsbury’s has also announced that its stores will only be open to customers over 70 and those with a disability for the first hour of trading on Thursday – but supermarkets will stay open for an hour longer so other shoppers don’t miss out.

Plans are also in place to beef up its click and collect offering, and these two groups will be given priority access whe new slots become available.

Supermarkets have seen a huge surge in demand for delivery services, with no slots available until next month in some areas.

The Sainsbury’s decision to ration products comes after discount rival Aldi said on Monday that it was limiting customers to four items of any one product.

Waitrose emailed customers on Wednesday to say that it too was reluctantly introducing limits on some of its most in-demand online items.

The supermarket also said it was drafting in 1200 staff and growing from sister retailer John Lewis to help it cope with demand.

Meanwhile, Tesco has said its 24-hour stores will start to close overnight so shelves stripped bare by worried consumers can be restocked.

They will shut between 10pm and 6am was to ensure we can serve customers better at this time.

A spokesperson said: It gives our colleagues the time overnight to restock the store, replenish the shelves and support our online grocery service at a time when demand is high.

Morrisons said on Monday that it planned to hire 3,500 more workers as it expands online delivery services to help it meet demand during the coronavirus crisis.

Considerable stockpiling has led Morrisons to report that sales have risen 5% year-on-year since the start of February.

Chief executive David Potts acknowledged there would be strain in the further reaches of the supply chain.

He added: If we just buy what we need then there will be enough… enough for everyone..

Supermarkets should get a boost from a business rates holiday announced by chancellor Rishi Sunak among a package of measures to deal with the economic fall-out of the COVID-19 crisis.

Sainsbury’s welcomed the measures. It said it paid £500m in business rates on its stores in the financial year to March 2019.

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(c) Sky News 2020: Coronavirus: Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose enforce new rules to stop panic buys