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Friday, Dec 04, 2020

Virus-panic buying hits Hong Kong supermarkets

People are worried that a community outbreak of the Wuhan disease may happen within the coming week

Many Hong Kong people have rushed to buy necessities in supermarkets and grocery stores over the last few days due to fear of a possible community outbreak of Wuhan virus in the city.

Panic-buying of masks began after several confirmed cases of Wuhan disease were identified in Hong Kong last Thursday. Grocery stores doubled the price of a three-layer surgery mask to about HK$2 to HK$3 (26 to 39 US cents) on average. Some shops in the northern New Territories raised the price to HK$18 each, targeting mainland shoppers.

The N95 mask, touted as designed to reliably provide 95%-plus respiratory protection, was priced between HK$30 and HK$78 each. Eddy Tong Chi-chung, deputy chief executive of the Consumer Council, urged retailers not to hoard and speculate in masks.

Ho Chung-ping, president of the Hong Kong Medical Association, said local clinics had also faced a shortage of masks as their stocks were only enough for the use in the coming two weeks.

As there was no stock in major supermarkets and grocery stores, people turned to online shops and imported masks from Taiwan, Japan, Thailand and Malaysia. People were willing to queue up for two hours to buy a box of 50 masks in Watsons, a local health care product chainstore.

Since Tuesday, even lower quality masks were priced at about HK$2 to HK$3 each. Some people bought dozens of three-layer masks from vending machines at public hospitals for HK$3 each.

From Tuesday, panic buying extended to alcohol-based handrub, the antibacterial product Dettol and bleach as people were worried that a community outbreak would happen later this week after the return of those who had been to the mainland during the Lunar New Year, some of whom they predicted would carry the Wuhan virus back to the city.

A pack of antisepsis paper was sold at HK$15, about triple the normal selling price. Bleach price was stable at HK$15 per 1.5 liter but the product was out of stock in most shops.

People also bought more rice, noodles and frozen foods as they had to work from home between Wednesday and Friday while their children would enjoy a long vacation until February 16.

While all political parties called for a complete shutdown of Hong Kong’s border, the government announced Tuesdayit was closing only six of the 14 control points from Thursday, fueling people’s concern about the epidemic.

On Wednesday, supermarkets in Hong Kong were crowded by panic shoppers, who bought different kinds of necessities after the number of confirmed cases in Wuhan jumped by 1,459 in one day to more than 6,000 with death toll at 132.

Some buyers said such panic buying was worse than in the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003, RTHK reported.

The Center of Health Protection said a couple who traveled to Hong Kong from Wuhan on flight KA853 on January 22 were identified as infected on Tuesday. They had spent most of their time in a hotel over the past one week.

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