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Coronavirus: Politicians, supermarkets urge calm amid panic-buying of groceries

  • Audrey Tan

    The Straits Times/Asia News Network

Singapore   /   Sat, February 8, 2020   /   11:26 am
Coronavirus: Politicians, supermarkets urge calm amid panic-buying of groceries People stock up on food supplies after Singapore raised coronavirus outbreak alert to orange, at a supermarket in Singapore February 7, 2020. (Reuters/Edgar Su)

Politicians and supermarket chain representatives on Friday  called on shoppers to remain calm, saying Singapore has sufficient stocks of essential supplies and food.

This was after items began flying off shelves at some supermarkets here when Singapore announced earlier in the day that it will be raising its disease outbreak response to the coronavirus situation by a notch to orange, which is just below the highest level of red.

Many photos and posts circulating on social media showed long queues at supermarkets and empty shelves.

Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing in a Facebook post gave his assurance that Singapore’s supply lines for essential supplies like rice and instant noodles are intact.

The Government’s announcement of moving its disease outbreak response up a level to orange came even as three more Singaporeans, who did not have any links to previous cases or travel history to China, were confirmed to be infected with the coronavirus originating from China’s Wuhan city.

Representatives from supermarkets also assured that Singapore has enough stocks of food and groceries, and urged shoppers to exercise restraint.

FairPrice's Mr Seah said there was a surge and some panic buying of food and groceries at its physical and online stores, resulting in some shelves to be empty.

But he urged people to remain calm as stocks are being replenished.

Mr Seah said: “We have stocks and they are being replenished from our warehouse but if everyone starts to buy a lot more than what they need, there will never be enough. Hence I hope we all stay calm and not get into this mode and behaviour."

FairPrice has also stepped up the cleaning regime for all its stores, made available hand sanitisers for customers to use in-store, and put in place twice daily temperature screening for all staff. Masks were distributed to staff for their use should they feel unwell.

A spokesman for Sheng Siong, another supermarket chain, also called on shoppers to avoid over buying.

"Currently, we have sufficient inventory in Singapore for food supplies and toiletries to meet customers' usual daily needs," she said. "Customers do not need to over purchase on groceries and necessities. Our sources of supply are well-diversified and we will continue to work closely with our suppliers."

Sales and marketing manager Calvin Tan, 35, said he visited a FairPrice outlet at Marine Parade on Friday evening for his weekly grocery shopping but changed his mind once he saw the queues.

Said Mr Tan: "The bulk-buying just creates more panic. And with everyone so close together, it could even result in a higher chance of getting infected."

Meanwhile, a Singapore Food Agency (SFA) spokesman told The Straits Times that Singapore does not import livestock or raw meat from China.

But as there is no evidence that infections of the novel coronavirus are associated with the consumption of food, no restrictions have been imposed on food imports from China, she said.

Still, in the event of any food supply disruptions caused by the outbreak, Singapore’s food supply is unlikely to be affected, as Singapore imports its food from more than 170 countries.

While fresh food items such as vegetables, fruits and fish are imported from China, the country is not the Republic’s only source, said the SFA spokesman.

Such food items also come from other countries, such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, the United States, Australia, and South Africa.

“Diversification has always been one of our key strategies to ensure a secure supply of safe food,” said the SFA spokesman.

“Our importers are ready to tap other available sources should there be a disruption of food supply to minimise the overall impact on our food supply.”

“There is no risk of us running a shortage of essential food or household items. We also have our national stockpile for essential items,” said Mr Chan, adding that his ministry is in close contact with retailers here.

Other politicians who also encouraged the public not to hoard groceries included labour chief and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Ng Chee Meng, and Workers’ Party chief Pritam Singh.

Mr Singh shared a Facebook post by supermarket chain FairPrice’s chief executive Seah Kian Peng telling people not to panic buy, and added: “There is no need to hoard items. We will all get through this together.”

Under the Disease Outbreak Response System Condition or Dorscon, orange means the outbreak is deemed to have moderate to high public health impact.