Britain will from Monday deploy military tanker drivers to deliver fuel to petrol stations, many of which are still dry after a chaotic week that has seen panic-buying, fights at the pumps and drivers hoarding petrol in water bottles.
With an acute shortage of truck drivers straining supply chains to breaking point the government said 200 military tanker personnel, 100 of which are drivers, would complete their training at the weekend and start deliveries on Monday.
"While the situation is stabilising, our armed forces are there to fill in any critical vacancies and help keep the country on the move by supporting the industry to deliver fuel to forecourts," Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said on Friday.
Shortages of workers after Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic have sown disarray through some sectors of the economy, disrupting deliveries of fuel and medicines and leaving more than 100,000 pigs backed up on farms.
Retailers said more than 2000 service stations were dry and Reuters reporters across London and southern England said dozens of pumps were still closed.
Queues of often irate drivers snaked toward those gas stations that were still open in London.
The Petrol Retailers Association said members reported on Friday that 26 per cent of pumps were dry, 27 per cent had just one fuel type in stock and 47 per cent had enough petrol and diesel.
Ministers say the world is facing a global shortage of truck drivers and that they are working to ease the crisis.
They deny that the situation is a consequence of an exodus of EU workers following Britain's departure from the bloc, and have dismissed concerns the country is heading toward a winter of shortages and power cuts.
Though there are shortages of truck drivers in other countries, EU members have not seen fuel shortages.
The Conservative government this week changed tack on immigrant workers, to allow some foreign workers to come in for three months to drive trucks and fill gaps in the poultry sector.
Opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said the government was not moving fast enough.
"The prime minister should be taking emergency action today but yet again he's failed to grasp the seriousness of the crisis. If it needs legislation, then let's recall parliament," he said.
As well as the chaos around gas stations, farmers are warning that a shortage of butchers and abattoir workers could force a cull of tens of thousands of pigs.
The pig industry implored retailers to continue buying local pork and not cheaper EU products, saying businesses would go bust and livestock would be culled if producers were not given immediate support.
The weekly slaughter of pigs has dropped by 25 per cent since August after the pandemic and Britain's post-Brexit immigration rules combined to hit a meat processing industry that was already struggling for workers.