AS the number of coronavirus cases increase in the county and the Government issues daily advice, the Bicester community is rallying together to help each other out.

Empty shelves in supermarkets and convenience stores have been a common sight, with shoppers panic buying and stockpiling items.

Now, a community page has been set up on Facebook where people and local businesses have volunteered to deliver food and items to the vulnerable.

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The group, called Coronavirus Helpers Bicester and Surrounding Areas, is creating a huge list of all the people who need help such as the elderly, who have specifically been told to stay home.

The support is not just for practical help including shopping but to make sure that people have someone to talk to in times of isolation and heightened anxiety.

Cat Carter first set up the group before others, including Stephanie Wright, Kat Harman, Craig Forrest and Singrid MacDonald, joined as admins.

Ms Wright, 39, who has lived in Bicester for 16 years said: “We’ve set it up because the panic buying alone meant vulnerable people were already struggling. Just today I took a single toilet roll to lone disabled people who were desperate.

“We’ve been open since Sunday and we already have 1,700 members - a mixture of the vulnerable and lots of willing volunteers.

"Bicester’s amazing for pulling together."

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Volunteers, who are simply Bicester residents, also plan to set up a 'buddy system' so that everyone has the support they need and are not struggling alone.

Ms Wright has made cards that are being posted locally to find the elderly and people who are not online.

People have expressed their frustration at finding empty shelves in supermarkets in the town.

Iceland on Sheep Street said yesterday that it dedicated two hours of trade exclusively to the elderly so that they could do their shopping ‘in peace’ and the general public were asked to do their shopping from 10am onwards.

Meanwhile Aldi is only allowing people to buy four items of any one product during each visit as it cracks down on stockpiling.

However, Claire Woodward, from Bicester, said on Facebook that this was not good enough, particularly when it comes to multi-pack items such as toilet roll.

She said: “They are allowing four units of 24 toilet rolls per person. No wonder we have struggled to get toilet roll when they are allowing someone to leave with 96 toilet rolls. Twenty four will be plenty for our household of two for ages.

"Why are they allowing this at a time like this?”

Aldi said in a statement: “We have increased orders from our suppliers and our warehouses have sufficient stock to replenish all stores. This includes all of the essentials such as sanitary and baby products.

"Our amazing colleagues have been working tirelessly to restock our stores. However, unprecedented demand for certain products has made it difficult for us to ensure that there are no gaps on shelves."

Sainsbury's has also announced that it is now limiting all grocery items to three per customer as shelves are stripped bare.

Many retailers, restaurants and facilities have closed across the county this week as a result of the coronavirus and the Government's advice issued on Monday.

This includes stores at Bicester Village such as New Balance, Ugg, Lululemon and Timberland.

A retail worker at the designer outlet, who has asked not to be named, said he knows 17 employees at the outlet who have quit their jobs because of the way management has dealt with the coronavirus.

Bicester Village has been contacted for comment but has not yet responded.

Nike at Bicester Shopping Park has also closed due to the virus.

The booking of routine appointments at all Bicester GP practices (Alchester Medical Group, Bicester Health Centre and Montgomery-House Surgery) has been suspended.

Alchester Medical Group spokesperson, Chris A’Court, said: "This is not a move that the practices have taken lightly. The safety and health of both patients and staff is the prime consideration behind all the actions they’re taking at present.

"It’s vital that the practices think ahead about how they’ll work when the coronavirus epidemic is predicted to be at its peak."

Bicester Heritage's popular Scramble event will no longer take place on April 26 and has instead been moved to June 21.

Organisers say they have been actively monitoring governmental and WHO advice regarding the development of coronavirus over the past weeks.

The site had originally scheduled its second Scramble event for June 21 but this will now move to June 20, 2021 instead.