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Sunday, Aug 09, 2020

Hong Kong third wave: supermarkets to restrict sale of essential items to check panic buying amid surge in Covid-19 infections

Wellcome and ParknShop say a temporary restriction will be imposed on the sale of essential items such as rice, toilet paper. But some city residents say they are not too worried about a supply shortage

Two major Hong Kong supermarket chains have imposed a quota on essential goods such as rice and toilet paper following a surge in demand amid the third wave of Covid-19 infections, though some customers said they were not too worried about another round of panic buying.

Wellcome and ParknShop, each having more than 250 outlets across the city, said a temporary restriction would be imposed on the sale of the essential goods in their branches, with each customer being allowed to buy only two items from a list of products.

The move came after photos circulating online this week claimed items such as rice and instant noodles had been emptied at some of the city’s supermarkets, especially near areas such as Tsz Wan Shan where new infection cases were reported.

A ParknShop spokesman told the Post the shop had noticed a recent “surge in demand for certain products” and would limit the purchase of at least 10 items – including rice, eggs, toilet tissue, bleach, hand wash and disinfectant materials.

He added: “The limited purchase arrangement will be correspondingly adjusted in response to market conditions and customer needs in a timely manner. We will also closely contact suppliers and increase the quantity of products accordingly.”

A Wellcome spokeswoman said: “Due to the surge in demand of certain products, we are asking our customers to purchase a limited amount of our highest-selling items to ensure we can offer those goods to all our customers.”

But she also stressed that there were “no issues with the supply chain”. “We will remove this temporary purchase limit as soon as demand returns to normal levels.”

According to a notice to customers at Wellcome outlets, the list of restricted items included rice, toilet and box tissues, canned goods, pasta, pasta sauces, hand soap and kitchen towel.

In North Point, most supermarkets still had good stock of rice, noodles, toilet paper and other essential items on Tuesday afternoon, which had all been cleared amid panic buying at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in February.

Peter Lau, 27, who lives in Tsz Wan Shan, had gone to a Wellcome store in North Point near his workplace to buy groceries. He said it was reasonable for the chain store to limit customers to only buy two of the essential products.

“I decided to come here after work because a friend had sent me photos of a ParknShop near [Tsz Wan Shan] where the shelves had all been cleared,” he said.

“I don’t think there is a need to panic, but I’m out of groceries at home and I don’t really want to eat out as there are many cases near my home.”

But employees at two Wellcome and ParknShop supermarkets in Tsz Wan Shan said there was no major shortage of items such as rice and toilet papers as of Tuesday afternoon.

Retiree Jane Wong, who was shopping at a ParknShop in North Point, said she was not concerned about grocery shortages.

“I think there really isn’t any need to worry,” she said.

The 60-year-old said she was not worried in February amid the first round of panic buying, as she had seen reports the shortages were just because work had not resumed after the Lunar New Year break.

“I usually buy enough groceries for my family, so there is no need to panic.”

Helen, another retiree, also found no reason to panic. “Many a time people panic, but after the initial rush all the stock will come back,” she said, adding her daughter often bought groceries online, which made things easier for her.

In February, Wellcome and ParknShop had to impose restrictions on certain essential items to check panic buying amid the Covid-19 outbreak.

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