Despite pleas from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Auckland Mayor Phil Goff to remain calm, late night shoppers swarmed to the few supermarkets still open in Auckland.

On the heels of the news that Auckland will move to alert level 3, and the rest of New Zealand will move to alert level 2 from midday tomorrow amid new local cases, Kiwis were tonight urged to remain at home as much as possible.

During tonight's announcement, Ardern urged New Zealanders to remain calm.

"Please do not rush to the supermarket tonight ... there is no reason to rush out and back any purchases this evening.

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Pharmacies and supermarkets will remain open, but Ardern said there was no reason to panic-buy.

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Physical distancing measures will be introduced to Countdown stores throughout the country, specifically alert level 3 measures in Auckland and level 2 measures throughout the rest of the country.

There will also be limits on customer numbers, limits on some products, queue control and extra cleaning and hygiene measures, Countdown said on its Facebook page.

"We're well practiced in what needs to be done to keep our team and customers safe, and there's plenty of food and supplies for everyone," the supermarket said.

"Please keep shopping as you normally would and there is no need to stock up. Look out for each other, and stay safe."

Over the next few hours, we’ll be working to bring our Alert Level 3 measures into place in Auckland, and Level 2...

Posted by Countdown Supermarkets on Tuesday, 11 August 2020

Kiri Hannifin, Countdown's general manager health & safety, said staff were well practiced in what needs to be done in stores to keep team and customers safe.

"Over the next few hours, we'll be working to bring our Level 3 measures into place in Auckland, and Level 2 measures throughout the rest of the country. This will include physical distancing measures in our stores, limits on customer numbers, limits on some products, queue control and extra cleaning.

"We'd echo the Prime Minister's comments that there is no need at all for anyone to stock up - we have plenty of food and supplies for everyone and we want everyone to shop as they usually would and consider others."

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Elsewhere, customers visiting 40 Foodstuffs stores - New World, Pak'nSave, Four Square - across the wider Auckland region can expect to see customer and team safety measures in place.

In a statement, Foodstuffs said two-metre social distancing, restricted customer numbers in-store, one customer and one trolley, no bag packers at check out, no reuseable bags to be bought into the store, increased sanitisation, hygiene and cleaning protocols throughout the supermarket including, on entry, at checkout and other high touch areas and social distancing signage and posters advising of customer requirements to be introduced.

Outside of Auckland, customers can expect to see increased sanitation and safety measures at their local supermarket too.

"These measures will be in place, initially from midday Wednesday 12 August until midnight Friday 14 August - but this may be extended depending on the advice received from Government over the coming days," the Foodstuffs statement said.

"While we truly hoped it wouldn't happen, as a business we just had to plan that another outbreak could occur, and the teams have been prepared for some time should we need to reinstate previous Alert Level protocols.

"Foodstuffs has good stocks of PPE and hand sanitiser, and our teams are familiar with what is required to keep both themselves and our customers safe from Covid-19.

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"We would like to reassure customers that, just like before, our supply chain is robust. We are working hard to make sure all the grocery items New Zealand households might need are on the shelf and readily available."

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff echoed the sentiment, calling for calm and patience as another lockdown looms over the city.

"I understand that people are probably feeling a little bit scared, a little angry and a little confused right now. None of us wanted to go back into a lockdown, but we always knew this was a very real possibility," he said.

"I am urging Aucklanders to come together like we did last time to stamp out community transmission. Please remain calm, please do not panic buy and please follow the lockdown rules."

Countdown New Lynn was forced to shut early Tuesday evening after it was overrun by shoppers. Photo / Zoe Holland
Countdown New Lynn was forced to shut early Tuesday evening after it was overrun by shoppers. Photo / Zoe Holland

And yet Countdown New Lynn was forced to close shortly before 10.30pm, an hour and a half early, after it was overrun by shoppers.

A witness told the Herald the line to the store stretched halfway down the New Lynn mall, with dozens of shoppers inside stockpiling staples including rice, bread and pasta.

Supermarket staff were passing out masks to other staff to keep them safe, but the witness had only seen two customers wearing masks.

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Simon Oosterman told Newstalk ZB the line of eager shoppers stretched 2km from the Countdown New Lynn supermarket.

"I counted over 200 people in the line, there are cars literally queuing up outside because there aren't enough carparks."

Oosterman had been standing outside the supermarket for the past half hour and the queue hadn't yet budged, he said.

Countdown Lynfield has also closed early, a customer said.

A Greenlane shopper told the Herald he abandoned the idea of shopping at the supermarket when he saw queues snaking out the door.

"It was chaos. There was traffic blocking all of the roads leading to the supermarket, the parking lot was completely full and there were cars queued to get into the parking lot.

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"There was already a queue snaking outside. I didn't think I'd even be able to get a park, let alone get the shopping done before the store closed."

Queues for the New Lynn store snaked through the mall. Photo / Zoe Holland
Queues for the New Lynn store snaked through the mall. Photo / Zoe Holland

No one appeared to be following physical distancing measures or wearing a mask at the store, he said.

Most Auckland supermarkets typically close at 10pm, but the Greenlane and Lynn Mall Countdown stores typically close at 12am.

"It was so instant, I was there probably around 9.50pm and there were people everywhere."

New World and Pak'nSave websites appeared to have crashed shortly after this evening's announcement, as thousands of shoppers rushed to stock up online.

Countdown's website also appeared to be experiencing issues as shoppers overwhelmed the site, warning of "very high demand" on its online shopping service.

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Supermarket websites were struggling after being swamped this evening.
Supermarket websites were struggling after being swamped this evening.

Security staff were standing outside the Countdown Grey Lynn and the Countdown Ponsonby, neither of which will open until 6am.

A security guard stood outside Countdown Richmond Rd, which will remain closed until 6am. Photo / Alex Robertson
A security guard stood outside Countdown Richmond Rd, which will remain closed until 6am. Photo / Alex Robertson

One lucky shopper told a Herald photographer she hadn't been food shopping for the past two weeks, but had managed to get some supplies before the store closed.