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Coronavirus: Ex-Nestle boss to oversee food supply 'war room'

Sky News logo Sky News 21/03/2020 Mark Kleinman, City Editor

The PM has spoken to supermarket bosses today to discuss panic buying and food supplies © Imagebridge The PM has spoken to supermarket bosses today to discuss panic buying and food supplies

Ministers are parachuting in a former Nestle executive to oversee a "war room" set up to ensure Britain's food security as the COVID-19 crisis deepens.

Sky News has learnt that Chris Tyas, who ran the multinational's food supply chain for five years, will take on a senior role in Whitehall in the coming days.

Senior retail executives were informed about Mr Tyas's appointment in a memo from David Kennedy, an official at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) on Saturday morning.

The former Nestle executive will become DEFRA's director of food supply and has "great experience...managing major crises in supply chains across the world," the memo said.

Mr Kennedy told retail bosses that "the current crisis will continue to create huge challenges for the food supply of the nation".

He said that DEFRA, which is led by the environment secretary George Eustice, had decided on a "food resilience strategy that has at its core the running of a 'war room'".

Its priorities, he wrote, were to "triage immediate issues and focus the resources of the whole industry on their resolution [and] to plan ahead, with a horizon of the next few months, in order to anticipate pinch points".

a group of people standing in a parking lot: Hundreds of people queue to enter a Costco Wholesalers in Coventry on Saturday © PA Hundreds of people queue to enter a Costco Wholesalers in Coventry on Saturday

Mr Kennedy asked dozens of retailers to nominate two individuals who would be available for daily conference calls with the government covering supply chain and operational issues.

The first such call is expected to take place on Tuesday.

The request for retail expertise underlines the unprecedented scope of the collaboration between the government and private sector that has emerged in recent days as the coronavirus pandemic escalated.

a group of people walking down the street in front of a crowd: Members of the public queue to get into the Costco store in Glasgow, Scotland before opening on Saturday © Getty Members of the public queue to get into the Costco store in Glasgow, Scotland before opening on Saturday

Hotel operators have pooled surplus beds for NHS, engineering companies, while manufacturers are racing to design a medical ventilator which can be produced en masse.

Boris Johnson held a conference call with supermarket bosses on Saturday to discuss the scenes of panic buying which have become ubiquitous across Britain's grocery industry during the last week.

Reports have suggested that the police are likely to be brought in to help control customer behaviour as the pandemic worsens in the coming weeks.

Major chains including Asda, Lidl, Sainsbury's, Tesco and Morrisons are now recruiting a total of tens of thousands of additional staff to meet soaring demand.

Most of the supermarkets have introduced some form of rationing as well as restrictions on shipping hours to ensure that NHS staff, the elderly and vulnerable can buy enough food for themselves and their families.

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