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Painkiller supplies run low on high street as Omicron patients drive up demand

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People struck down with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus are buying so much paracetamol that supplies are running low in many shops.

Official data published today indicates that nearly a third either have low or no supplies of the painkiller. Ibuprofen is also in high demand with a fifth of stores experiencing shortages.

Those needing pain relief, however, should still have no difficulty finding the drugs they need. The data shows that 71 per cent of shops have a high or medium level of paracetamol available while 80 per cent have enough ibuprofen.

The figures, published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), also indicate that people are buying more rolls of lavatory paper, perhaps to deal with the sniffles that are a common symptom of the latest wave of Covid-19.

The ONS reported that one in ten shops had low supplies lavatory paper while one in 20 had run out over the weekend.

Government data reports that over the past week an average of 125,000 people a day have come down with Covid-19, meaning that nearly 900,000 have had the virus. The real number could be significantly higher with some estimates suggesting that twice as many as officially reported are contracting the disease.

About two thirds of people with Covid report some symptoms, with the most common being a runny nose, headache, fatigue, sneezing and a sore throat.

The ONS data came from nearly 6,000 visits to 270 shops across 133 locations around the UK. On each visit, shoppers were asked to register whether supplies of products that they could see across 21 categories were either high, medium, low or non-existent.

The statistics agency pointed out that the results were therefore subjective because one person’s view of what constituted a low supply may not be the same as someone else’s. It also said that the results did not imply that stock availability in warehouses or storage facilities was low.

After lavatory rolls, fresh fish was the product with the most shortages, followed by frozen chips, fresh pork and bottled water. Across all 21 categories only 11 per cent had low or no supplies on average.

Beer was the product category in most plentiful supply with 98 per cent of stores having decent stock levels, perhaps reflecting the fact that many people are choosing not to drink because they are ill or because they have given up for “dry January”.

The ONS also reported that approximately 3 per cent of the workforce were on sick leave or not working because of coronavirus symptoms, self-isolation or quarantine late last month, the highest level since comparable estimates began in June 2020.

Nonetheless, the overall figure is much below the 10 per cent absence level reported by some parts of the NHS. The ONS said that the hairdressing and beauty industry had the highest absence rate of any sector of the economy at 7 per cent.

The figures also paint a tough picture for high streets, with footfall levels at only 78 per cent of the same week last year.

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